Saturday, March 25, 2017

Weekending


It's been a weird couple of weeks.

All I know is, I had a really fun* visitor, then it was Cory's birthday, then Calvin's, then Silas got sick for a week and started saying things like, "Mama, sometimes when my body starts to get hot I feel really...angry." And, "Is there a tube inside our body for, like, food and water and stuff?" (Yes.) "Well, my main question is, is the tube made of plastic? Or glass?"

What I'm trying to say is, the weeks have been a blur of the best of everything. On Tuesday afternoon I deferred all responsibilities, watched Zootopia with Si, then we both took a nap. In the middle of the day. With lots of cuddling in between, no unnecessary hygiene, no constricting fabrics, and I can't even remember, but I'm guessing I found a way to not even cook dinner. (Sick days are kind of awesome when you're not even sick.)

I also did lots of reading. Want a teaser? You got it.

"We don't want to be part of something ordinary; we want to be part of something special. Being a part of God's kingdom just doesn't feel exciting and sexy enough. The day-to-day reality of being with God in our work, in our home life, and our community lacks the power, the transcendence, the specialness we crave. We long for the validation of our importance."

Or if you're in a hurry, "The Tower of Babel is in our hearts."
OUCHHHHHH.

I'm struck speechless by The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus' Path of Power in a Church that has Abandoned It by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel. Cory read it first and couldn't stop yammering about it, so I got my own copy and it's a good thing, because I don't want to share this one.

Here are a few other things that grabbed me this week:

::  We need more honest words about mental health. Depression feels like, "...knowing a fire is burning but never feeling warm."

:: This post by Alia Joy took my breath away. Especially this, "food has no morality. It is not good or bad and the consumption of food does not make you good or bad.  It doesn’t make up the value of someone. It simply is."

:: Dream job!!

:: Silas keeps fighting me for this lotion (and I also love the soap.) **shannanmartin20 for 20% off through the end of March AND 10% of sales go to the Elkhart Co. Jail Ministry!**

:: Duran Duran + Joy Williams = GET IN MY EARS.

:: Consider these tacos queued the heck UP.

:: Is your church doing any short-term missions trips this spring or summer? Read this.

::  We need more words about things like choosing childlessness (and less churches with "family" in their name, but that's another post for another day.)

::  I watched this with Calvin.

::  And this with Calvin and Ruby. (We have massive feelings about the oppression of North Koreans around here.)

:: Okay, that got intense for a minute. But I promise you, this is such a sweet note to end on. (I should know, we got to see them live last weekend for Cory's birthday!)

And because I love you, and because I know you'll care, here's a pic of Siley's plate at our trip last weekend to Golden Corral (Calvin's bday pick.)


Happy weekend, homies.
Onion ring dreams (this was his second plate of onion rings, by the way) for all.

Yours,
Shannan

* "Fun" is defined by being super chill, enjoying thrift stores, eating enthusiastically, keeping an open mind about movies, staying up too late, and talking until you go half-hoarse. Go have some.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Weekending :: Letting in the Light


Guys, it's 10:31pm right now, which apparently in 40-year-old-woman time means 3:79 am. Time makes no sense to me anymore. I've lived my whole life as a raging night owl and now it's 10:31 on a Friday night and I'm panicking that I've already ruined tomorrow by not getting enough sleep.

I don't know myself.

It would be like if I randomly became grossed out by salsa.
Or if I suddenly realized gingham is not, in fact, a neutral.

It would be like if I started exercising for fun.
Or if I thought nicknames were lame.
Or if I quit writing to become a zoologist.

Who is Shannan Martin? What exactly is my identity at the point that 10:31 pm feels too late to bother?

Unrelated: Do spider bites cause exhaustion?
That was the first thought I had this morning at 6:45 am.

I Googled it, and Google is saying they do not. But the spider bites are saying something quite different and anyway, no one wants to talk about spider bites on a Saturday. Or ever.

Onward!

I rounded up a few fun reads for your weekend.
I'm scanning my foggy, 40-year old brain and I don't think any of them are too depressing....nope. Not too depressing. We're keeping it light today, sisters and friends.

It's what weekends are for, or at least this weekend.

::  This podcast is giving me life today OH MY WORD. (Emphasis on the "Oh".)

::  Cory and I have followed this with laser intensity, often cackling in bed (sometime before 10:31pm)

::  I have always felt like my introvertedness is a handicap when it comes to be a mom. The STRUGGLE!! This piece had me nodding along and feeling more like a human and less like a mistake.

:: Surprise! Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted is available on Kindle for just $1.99. Scoop it up! Save it for later! Tell a friend! If you've ever wondered about my backstory, it's all in there. My heart. My soul. And lots of Robert stories. ;)

::  This was beautiful and inspiring. We're all so complicated and art lives in each of us. Find a way to pry it out and share it with the world! (We're waiting.)

:: I'm currently re-reading this classic novel. (Swoon!) I had no clue it was written by a teenaged girl!

::  This one stops me in my tracks every time. Her pictures, her words, her soul.

::  This cracked me up in a very "smh" sort of way. Also, I could use some help adulting because I have problems locking myself out of various places, I'm usually 5 minutes late, and I couldn't remove a red wine stain if it bit me on the ankle. Like a spider. For example.

:: The grand finale! Please, if you never do another thing I tell you to do, watch this clip. I laugh-cried when I saw it this morning, and not just because it's all so very familiar. The work-from-home struggle isn't actually a struggle...until your baby rolls into the room while you're filming a life spot on the BBC then your wife crawls in to retrieve him with her pants half down.

Happy Weekending, Homies!

xo
Shannan

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Year 4.5 - the Look of Life


Sometimes my fight is against cynicism. Sometimes it's against apathy. It's always against the fleshiest part of me that wants what I want when I want it, the part that is never satisfied, always longing, always turning away.

Lately, my fight is against the urge to shut it all down and sleep for the better part of a week. It has been a tiring couple of months (yawn.)

So, yesterday, when I found a rare ten-minute window, I decided to spend it sitting on my front steps in peace. Just ordinary me, the birds, the bare Maple limbs and the familiar wail of the train. No people. No words.

Not thirty seconds later she passed by on the opposite sidewalk, a cigarette dangling from her lips. She walks by a few times a day, her face lined with hardship more than age, her skin closely matching the tan of her backpack. If I had to guess how old she is, I'm sure I'd overshoot it.

Warily, she said hello.
A minute more and she crossed over to my side of the street.

This neighbor cares for her disabled granddaughter. She writes letters to her daughter at the women's prison every week and wouldn't you know, her daughter just won a coveted spot in the Dog Program. (I assumed this was an acronym for something. Drugs? Daughters? Who knows. In fact, it's a program where inmates learn to train dogs.)

I asked about her grandkids who, like so many others, broke my heart when the hard-luck housing market swallowed them up and they were forced across town. "Oh, they're much better," she smiled. "I still can't believe it."

She railed against mistakes made, injustices dealt. There's the daughter serving time downstate on a meth charge when "so many damn people are out there doing so much worse." There's the school who tossed her grandson out when he was just a kid. He's better now, back in school. He found a new friend and they share a name, but they also share the weight of the world pressing down on them, daring them to survive. "He's a good friend, a true friend." She paused. "I don't have many of those, myself. I'm too honest, I guess."

Tell me the truth. Show me what is real. This is my ten minute window, but I'm willing to stretch it to twenty if you are.

I did little more than listen and nod along, watching the ash grow longer between her fingertips then fall to the ground. "This weather is really something, isn't it? They say global warming is a bunch of BS, but I don't know, this doesn't make much sense. It's weird." She trailed away, we said our goodbyes, for now.



I recently sat with a late cup of steaming tea and listened to a message from a new friend, hundreds of miles away. Through tears she processed her own journey from safety and comfort to one marked by the weird way of Jesus.

"I'm so confused... I feel so disconnected from my old life but I'm lonely here, too... My life used to be so much simpler... When will this start to get easier?"

Staring out my window at the street that keeps pummeling my pride along with my heart, tears streaked my face. I shook my head and wept. Then I messaged her back, "It will never get easier."

We are four and a half years in and here's what I can tell you: I know my place. It is no longer unfamiliar to me. I know the smells. I expect the shattered glass gleaming underfoot on our slow morning walks to school. I know the cars and the kids. The sounds have formed a particular sort of white noise; the hammer, the chainsaw, tires on wet pavement, the train. I am no stranger here. I'm not new anymore.

This life is exhausting, it's not going to change. But there's more to the story, and that's where words often fail me. 

The longer we stay, the more closely I'm drawn to these struggling, optimistic, frustrating, beautiful, hard-working humans. I am bound to them inextricably. I know their pain. I know there's no sense bearing witness to it unless I'm willing to bear it physically, to hoist part of it onto my shoulder then walk with them in the same direction.

I want their pain. And that's a tough one to explain.

The faces change. They move away. They are sent away. They're locked up, driven apart, uprooted. They are talked over, looked over, despised for their poverty and the way it shines on our own. But the trouble they know is ground into the asphalt lining my streets and yours. Nine year olds casually mention there's no food at their house between hands of Go Fish. Men and woman talk without emotion about abuse, about shame, about what it feels like to plunge a needle into a ropy vein and know peace for a moment. Here, there is simply no point in making small talk.

Meanwhile, we buy toilet paper. We brown onions with meat, unclog the drain, scratch down reading minutes with the dried up marker found underneath the table. We laugh every day, especially when it's all we can do. We live mostly paycheck to paycheck, hunted down by the fact that we still have far more than we need. We field requests, praying our love is enough. We battle our own entitlement and frustration with every "No" we speak, and our energy bleeds out between the cracks of this very good life. We erect barricades of paperback books and stream Dawes from the speaker hidden above the kitchen cabinets. We sing along. We eat with our neighbors every chance we get, knowing this is the "work" we've been called to, knowing it isn't work at all.

It is exhausting.
It is liberating.

It doesn't get easier.
It gets harder.

But I have wonderful news - we were not called to comfort. We weren't called to be unshakable portraits of courage or calm. We were not intended to self-soothe with warm messages of false pride and emotional placidity. We were not made to be happy. And we sure weren't made for small talk.

We were made for the mess, that ridiculous mixture of suffering and gladness, that disquieting blend of love and grit that stresses us out and raises us up. This is our birthright.

Four and a half years in, I have never been more sure that the only way to live is at the razor edge of myself, in full view of my rebel God who prefers low places.

Life stopped being simple long ago. I still fight the chaos. There are days I so desperately want to believe the common narrative, that I should come first. That I should say no. That God does not need my exhaustion, so I can go ahead and hang it up. From every side I'm told I am enough, even if I never answer the door again.

I suppose all of this is theologically sound, if you hold it in the right light. Thankfully, I'm a neighbor, not a theologian. I'm no Biblical scholar, just a woman who has learned through tears, scheduling nightmares, lost keys, and the occasional, well-timed triumph that as image-bearers of Christ inching toward the character of a Holy God, we are promised a life that will only be saved if it's lost.

It's hard to put all of this into words, so hard that I sort of gave up for a while. But the world is on fire and the church is burning to the ground. This cannot wait. I need the truth in my ears, in my retinas, floating on the page and lodged down in my throat. We were called to so much more than comfort, and the cost will be our reward. 

Come with me. Find your chaos. Call it good.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Around Here // Weekending


Yesterday I walked the middle school boys up to the corner to catch their bus and this scene stopped me cold. It's true that my kids went to school in shorts this week. It's true that they have been playing out in the garden boxes with the neighbors until dark, coming in covered in dirt after dinner has long gone cold. Yes, indeed I have noted a significant lifting of my spirit correlating with the reappearance of the sun and chirping birds. BUT I AM GRAVELY WORRIED ABOUT THE TREES. They are covered in buds and as God and the BBC are my witness (holla, The Crown!) winter is not over yet. There will be snow and it will come late enough to make us weep. It will likely come during the week of Spring break, as it did last year. It will be biting and crackling and so very discouraging. And on top of all that, I'm now concerned that it will annihilate the trees. We will suffer a shadeless summer. Or something.

 

But speaking of winter, not to brag, but I've become something of a soup aficionado this year. I've fancied myself a foodie for ages now, but it wasn't until this - the winter of my 40th year - that I braved the trusty seas of a homemade, made-up soup. Apparently, if you have some broth and a few veggies on hand, bliss is just thirty minutes away.

My first attempt included a couple lonely potatoes found rolling around in the bin and half a head of cauliflower that had seen better days. If memory serves me, I threw in a can of corn and I definitely tossed the dregs of a bag of shredded cheese in at the end.

It could have gone either way.

But when I showed up late to Monday night Bible study after a PTO meeting, the pot was empty, and my neighbor Jasmine swore it had healed everything that ailed her. (Typical "Jasmine" ailments include mysterious stomach pains, a possible gall bladder situation, and an aversion to both chocolate and left-overs.)

I didn't bother telling her the soup was basically the very definition of left-overs. And I've never known what to say about the chocolate drama.


 
{This winter has been the ugliest ever, but we had a foggy morning earlier this week and I couldn't stop taking pictures. Fog. The ultimate filter! Earl Grey tea for the soul!}

Aside from making a lot of soup, I've been pondering the meaning of life and my place in it. Raise your hand if you're with me. And remind me in exactly one year, if you don't mind, that I always get this way in February.

We're still here, and we've still got things to do. I don't want to spend my time wishing things (such as myself) were different when I could be grabbing all of it up and stuffing my pockets.

If you're reading this, you're my people and I'm yours. Let's stick together.

{We did an overnighter in Grand Rapids last week since the kids had a long weekend...and ran into this statue of Rosa Parks!}

{Cory and Rubes trying to channel Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.}


Here are a few things that have caught my attention lately:


::  Inclusivity is More Than Tolerance by Preemptive Love Coalition
"Inclusivity isn’t about how a community looks, it’s about how a community functions."

::  A simple, tested idea to help the homeless. "Don't assume they are lazy."

::  I have been catastrophically bad at making brown rice and never thought it tasted good, anyway. Then I found this recipe and I literally eat it out of the pan. 

::  5 Instagram Photos that Stopped me in my Scroll by The Lettered Cottage (One of my decorating and EVERYTHING soul sisters!)

::  Church Planting in the Age of Desire by Ashley Hales for The Gospel Coalition


And here's a little of what I've been up to:

::  I wrote about Sharing the Communion of the Whole Truth at (in)courage. "Whatever the reason, having grown weary of my typical deflections, this week I decided to start telling the truth."

::  I also got to speak at the chapel service at mine and Cory's alma mater - Bethel College, Mishawaka, IN. You can watch or listen by clicking here and scrolling down to my name. Disclaimer: I do a good bit of claw hand flapping.

::  I was interviewed by Charissa Steyn about how I'm alive to adventure. Read here!


Happy weekending, homies. Hope you have something scandalous brewing.

Luv,
Shannan


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On Frogs and Living


I have learned over the past several weeks that it’s possible to go into hiding without meaning to. It happens in the slow drip of fast days, the ones that leave you empty, the ones that split your seams. I’ve experienced both this February, I always do. I used to think being simultaneously spent and topped off was impossible, or maybe the symptom of a larger problem. 

Now, I can only draw one conclusion, and it feels more like a song than a statement: I am alive. (Can you hear the music?)

Part of this epic “being alive,” at least lately, has involved conversations about frogs. Isn't that just the sort of thing that keeps us interesting in living? Not the frogs, but the striking reality that every single piece of it, every slice, every sliver, every atom holds the potential to grip us? One day, we’re roaming room to room in our cluttered home, wondering why we don’t just go outside and shake off our blues. The next, we’re hearing affirmations from the clouds and storing up accidental wisdom like a squirrel with nut-packed cheeks. 

I re-learned the distinctions between toads and frogs while sitting for an entire day in the vinyl chair by Calvin’s hospital bed. (He’s fine.)  A few days later I stumbled on twin stone frog statues on a warp-speed trip to Arkansas. The night I returned home, Silas asked to read about Moses in the Storybook Bible. I’m guessing he wanted the comfort of baby Moses sailing downriver in his pitch-sealed basket, being rescued from the reeds. My guy feels kinship with these stories of being found. For every story of rescue, for every baby dealt a new hand, there first came loss. Without release there is no capture, and this is enough to break us both. 
But anyway, the frogs.

The Moses we found that night was bearded and tall, railing for the captives to be freed. The answer was yes, and then it was no. This happened on a loop, to the soundtrack of creative, maddening disruption. Assault by nature – the parts of it that seem like mistakes to our untrained eyes. Eventually, the frogs were called out of their cool-earth hiding and into holy action. 

Silas wondered why God made everyone suffer, and it’s a very valid question. I personally wondered what God had against the poor frogs. They were made for the mud. Minding their own business. I'm guessing they never imagined their services would be needed to set captives free.

Here’s what I’m holding onto: none of us was promised a life of comfort. We’ve been called to a faith that will cost us something – must cost us something. Often, what it costs us is our preference for engagement. It costs us our big ideas on what it would take to really fix the problems we’re faced with. If we pay up, we'll never be more sure of our inability to solve a single thing, and that is a death worth suffering. So, we might mourn. We might gnash our teeth as we bury the mantles we’ve carried to “win souls for Christ” or whatever we were taught to call it. But after that last shovel of dirt is heaved, we’ll feel the looseness in our shoulders and our souls. 

This is freedom.
We’ll do anything for more.

I don’t believe I’ve been called to the holy war of disruption or the righteous battle of driving someone mad. I’m not that kind of frog. But I think it’s time to dig out from under this blanket of mud. Bury the old, awaken the true. I’ll squint at the sun and my thin skin will surely cry for mercy. None of this means it’s a terrible idea. It just means I’m a frog. It means I’ll need help along the way.

The miracle is this abundant life, the one we say we want. Though the details change from person to person, the themes are all the same. It will break our hearts and send us to bed at 9 o’clock three nights running. It will weary us. Wreck us. 

It will give us a glimpse of God’s kingdom here on earth, and we’ll find ourselves willing to do whatever it takes to be a part of it. We'll find ourselves stone-cold stunned by the strange and ordinary work God has for us.

It's somehow both February and spring outside my window. The physical world is calling us to wake up, and it's calling us early.  

Dig your way toward the sun. 
Come up out of hiding. 
Listen for the music.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Shared in Common


I first met Amber last Spring at Rooted Chicago. I had known her name for a while from social media and admired her knack for always pulling the best quote out of an article she shares online - something I'm not particularly good at. Standing next to her in that darkened sanctuary, I was able to really see her.

As I have mentioned, I'm being very intentional about listening to the voices and stories around me which might be different than my own. I am tremendously weary of the prevailing echo chamber concept, where we're quick to huddle up with others who look, live, and believe just as we do. I'm desperate to learn from friends who experience life differently and I'm committed to sharing some of those voices here on my blog, just as I shared Jess's story several months back.

Amber is a beautiful writer with an important story to tell. I asked if she would be willing to talk with us about what it's like (and what it could be like) to be a single woman in the church. I'm beginning to see the way we cater to marriage issues, quietly implying that our single brothers and sisters are not yet whole people. I'm recognizing our tendency to idolize families, quietly implying that a single person doesn't *really* have one - yet. I've been guilty of this myself. These sinful biases are inflicting real damage throughout our churches and we are missing out when we push politely push people to the margins until we feel that they're ready to hang with us.

Just last night Calvin was being DJ on the way to get groceries at Aldi. Naturally, Lacrae ended up in the mix. In one of my favorite songs he raps, "Your money your singleness marriage talent your time They were loaned to you to show the world that Christ is Divine."

I'm grateful that Amber is stewarding her gift of singleness well, willing to share with us so that we might see more clearly just exactly who God is and how He loves every single one of us.


Shared in Common
by Amber Wackford

After I was fired at the beginning of last year, I went home to Maryland for a couple of weeks. I needed to hug my mom, pray with the ladies from my Bible study, and eat at my best friend’s table.

Years before, when I was in my last year of graduate school, finishing classes and interning, my best friend, Jesse, worried about me. I had mentioned offhandedly that my days were so busy I didn’t even have time to eat a sandwich, and she immediately bought protein bars for me to keep in my desk and insisted on making dinner Tuesday nights before we went to Bible study.  I didn’t have to do anything, she told me, I just had to show up and be okay eating whatever she was making.

Because of this invitation to simply come, their table became for me a place of sanctuary. It was a respite from the craziness of that busy season. I was allowed to come stressed. I was allowed to be tired. I was allowed to talk about work or school, or I was allowed to not talk about work and school. I had all permission in the world to just come; to not take care of anyone, and instead let my friends take care of me.

So, it didn’t come as a surprise to me in that season when my job was gone and I started to question everything about my cross-country move, all I needed to was to sit at my best friend’s table again.

We planned it on a Tuesday night, as we had done some many times before. Only this time, while I set out plates, napkins, and forks and she stirred a pot at the stove, Jesse said without prompting, “I love when you’re home and in my kitchen!”   

From the table where he was buckling their youngest into his high chair, her husband, Matt, piped up, “She’s not kidding.”

“I know,” I said. 

Matt must have heard the dismissing tone in my voice because he didn’t let it go. “No, you don’t. She pines for you.”

I busied myself filling water glasses, and let their words hang in the air. I realized in that moment that the sacredness that I had experienced sitting with them week after week, eating and sharing stories and praying, they had experienced too.

I realized that over the course of several hundred Tuesdays, God had made us family.

***********

I wonder sometimes when we think about Church if we’re too quick to forget stories like this. The ones where people are welcome to come however they are to eat, and pray, and not be alone.

If we’re not quick to forget it, then I think we’re quick to dismiss it.  We’re quick to neglect that the Church is built in ordinary moments, and often in ordinary ways. And that this was always God’s design. It was always meant to be built on shared meals, shared stories, and shared prayers. It was always meant to be about people who love Jesus sharing their lives with each other, becoming friends, becoming a family.

The Church was always meant to be built on what’s shared in common, and too often we focus instead on what makes us different.

Nowhere in my life is this clearer than in my friendship with Matt and Jesse. I am single, and my best friends are married. While I was busy with graduate school, they were busy building a home and starting a family. They have settled in our hometown with their boys, and I left our hometown a year ago to try my hand at a new job.  We are in different seasons, called to prioritize different things, now living in different places, and we remain as connected and smitten with each other as ever.   

Because love is the thing we always hold in common.

***********

When I graduated with my Master’s degree, my married friends sat outside in rain with my parents and witnessed my walk across the stage for my diploma. They threw a party so I could celebrate with my people the accomplishment that came after years of hard work. They rejoiced with me, and they were proud.

Two weeks later, Jesse found out she was pregnant with their first son, the now-nearly-five-year old who calls me Aunt Amber and tells people I’m his best pal. Throughout the months of Jesse’s pregnancy, I ran errands, vacuumed, and scrubbed their kitchen floors. I painted the nursery, and helped Jesse’s mom and sister throw a baby shower. I rejoiced with them, and I still am proud.

I’m proud of how they parent, and proud to be part of the family that’s helping them raise their sons.

Because the thing is when you’ve sat at the table together week after week, and you’ve had all permission in the world to be yourself, and you build these relationships that bleed friendship into family, and you all love Jesus well together, you’re being the Church.

You’re being the kind of Church that Jesus wanted us to be all along. The one that says no to nonsensical divisions and embraces the image of God we see in each other. The one that creates space for the tired, the lonely, and the broken. The one that lets you come as you are have a seat at the table.

So that the things that are seemingly insurmountable differences become the things that are holy and beautiful.

It all works because we hold Jesus in common. And that’s enough. That’s everything.



Follow Amber:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Dismantling White Supremacy Begins with Me


Supreme: su-preme (adjective) Highest in degree or quality, ultimate, first, foremost, predominant, highest-ranking. 

When I was in first grade, I had a classmate who had come to our village public school from somewhere in Asia. It was so long ago, but I remember him standing quietly in the background and I remember his name sounded like a food, not a person. We did what first graders in small-town, white America did - we giggled, not because we hated him, not because we thought of him as less-than, but because he existed so far beyond the scope of our worldview. We pulled the corners of our eyes back towards our ears then ran off with him for kickball or tag; he in crisp, cuffed jeans, us in our raggedy hand-me-downs. We liked him. If he'd stayed longer, we might have learned something from him, though our gain would likely have come at his detriment. Tell us everything. Spill your history so we can lap it up. Make us better people.

Kids came and went, passing through the red brick school. The most memorable were those who stood out, marked in some obvious way. We were part of something much larger than ourselves, far above our own blond heads, the drawing in and churning out of those who didn't "fit."

We were Christians. Everyone knew it. An entire town of honest, church-going folks with the gall to sing religious songs in high school choir, steeled by our assurance that no one would protest. We memorized Bible verses at Wednesday night Awana. We sucked barbecued chicken from the bone on Memorial day, following veterans, firemen, farmers, and the marching band from one end of town to the cemetery where we saluted the flag then bowed our heads and prayed.

We tanned our skin to look more like Oprah for a school project. We moon-walked with Michael Jackson, coveting the sequined fingerless glove on the right hand of our lone wealthy classmate. We took what we wanted and objectified the rest, though we didn't quite see it that way. We didn't quite know. Once, on a field trip to the city, I brushed aside the uneasy feeling in my stomach and threw my head back in laughter as a classmate made racist jokes about the city buses and the people riding them.

Later, in high school, one of my best friends was an adoptee from South Korea. I envied her thick hair, her perpetual tan, and the way it seemed she could be scooped up at a moment's notice, cared for and adored. She fit right in with the rest of us, but she certainly didn't blend. When she began cracking jokes about being Asian, we laughed along. In the winter, our basketball team played against the one school in our conference with a black player, and the tension crackled for days. He could dunk. He could play. Once, (we weren't quite sure how,) a game ended with many of our God-fearing fans spilling onto the court, throwing punches.

I wonder now, did that happen at all of his games, or was it just us?

These unspoken beliefs floated on our fresh, country air. We swore we weren't racist, discriminating people. Most of us knew at least one person of color, and our interactions were vastly positive. Yet in our everyday lives, we were simply conditioned to understand that Black was different and Asian was different and dirt-poor was just different enough from our unified, blue-color working class. Catholic was slightly suspect. Democrats could blend in if they tried. Mexicans (as we called them) picked strawberries and tomatoes in the migrant camp ten miles away where we drove, on occasion, to practice our Spanish. We entered what we mistakenly thought was their world, then flipped the frame, believing we were doing them a favor. A couple hours later, we'd drive off to munch on a Taco Supreme and a Nachos Supreme, grateful our morning charity hadn't taken too much of our day.

~

Last week I read several recountings of the White Supremacist who pulled up a chair in a community Bible study, sitting quietly through thirty minutes of reading and discussion. He was soft spoken. Gentle looking. And then he gunned them down, unloading over 70 shells into nine men and women, because of their race.

(Or was it his race that made him load the gun?)

At his core, he believed he was better than them, that he was entitled to their lives.
This is why we call him a white supremacist.

We don't hesitate, the two oily words dripping disdainfully from our tender lips. He is a white supremacist. He is the prototype. He is not us. No. We have never seen anything like him before.

~

I moved away from my hometown after college, though I return every chance I get. My community raised me well. I love it. I'm grateful. But with time and perspective I see the cracks that exist everywhere, if we're willing to search. If I'm inclined to offer the benefit of the doubt, it's that it did the best it could with what it had. It didn't know what it didn't know and maybe, hopefully, it knows much more, now.

But tell me, how could I not have believed my race was somehow "highest-ranking," "foremost," or "predominant"? How could I have seen whiteness as being equal with blackness, when the minimal information I received on other races was most often a biased caricature? Having been raised on a media diet of Small Wonder, Alf, Mork & Mindy, Star Trek and the Jetsons, I had a broader cultural context for robots and extra-terrestrials than People of Color. How could I possibly have known the scope of what I was missing?

We are, in many ways, indelibly shaped by our personal history. This doesn't mean change and growth are not available, but like a splatter of ink on a starched button-down, it will require some scrubbing.

There's no sense grabbing a stiff-bristled brush if we can't even see the stain.

~

Another week has passed, and I'm reaching the limits of hope for sweeping clarity to fall upon us. It's far too muddy. When I am expected to disavow her and endorse him, when I'm told I'm too quiet and too loud, when we are all both too political and not political enough, well, I get weary. And I know I'm not the only one.

So many of us are reaching out to grab thin air, trying with the best intentions to shift the momentum of humanity just a smidge. We're marching. Writing. Discussing. We're using our voices for worthy yeses and non-negotiable nos. We are praying. We are holding our children close. We're reading different books. We're shutting our mouths. Finally, we are ready to listen.

Still, I can't help feeling that beneath this passion is fear (of not falling into the "right" camp) and desire (to be seen, to lead, to fix.) There is a time to pray for justice and a time to fight for justice while we pray, but fear and selfishness are not compatible with justice.

I thought the fight was only against uncaring institutions and harmful, fear-mongering leaders. I have known the urgency for a holy war. My heart has sparked at the thought of lacing my boots on behalf of the pushed-aside and talked-over. I have wept for the church to care in meaningful, visible ways.

I'm an child of white, Middle America privilege, unaccustomed to seeing myself as the problem. Before I even pretend to approach these broad, systemic issues, I owe it to a world longing for equity to first recognize and dismantle my contributions to the pain.

It is easy to throw stones at "White Supremacists," to see them as racist beasts with white hats and dead eyes. Of course we are not them. But whether we can accept it or not, we have been quietly conditioned to see whiteness as the default, the Human Supreme.

I invite you to think on this. Peel back what you have been taught, what you simply lived. Mine your history for possible blind spots. Consider that "greatness" was never the reality, or even the goal. Should we acknowledge our real and equal human limitations, we run the grave risk of blending into obscurity and being seen as entirely ordinary. Scary, isn't it?

~


To learn of the Kingdom way is to stare long and hard at the ways we've misunderstood. Though we thought ourselves wise, we are fools. Though great, we are actually quite small. We are not the forest after all, but the seed. There is only one Supreme, one default. He is God, who splits heavens and parts seas and subverts common logic with the cry of a babe. This is very good news.

We were created to kiss the dirt, to exact beautiful change from low places. If we want God to be glorified through this mess we made, we've got to get busy with the right kinds of work.

First up: Repentance.
Second: A posture of quiet learning.
Third: Persistent prayer for fresh Kingdom eyes.
Fouth: Persistent prayer for Kingdom wisdom. (Note: this will reek of foolishness. We have been duly warned.)

From there, we commit to the taxing grind of advocating for life at the macro level, in the folds of our regular lives where our work will exist in hidden places and our deeds will not go public.

We commit to collecting stories of pain and disaster, holding them closely enough to feel their burn, allowing them to change us in ways that don't sacrifice their honor and dignity.

We will do this work for no reward.
We will do this work because it's right. It's our calling.

I don't want to diminish public protest (the language of the unheard), but if we are not honoring all life we have forgotten our place as image bearers of our Creator.

If we are chanting along with the President, "America First! America First!" we have forgotten our place as last and least. We have forgotten the weird way of Jesus.

If we cannot offer solace and refuge to our neighbor* who is terrified and out of options, we have forgotten our place as Christ incarnate.

If we cannot love our paranoid, Trump-supporting neighbor*, we have forgotten our place as agents of peace in these heartbreaking times.

If we believe our whiteness is the answer to anything at all, we have forgotten our place as seeds pushed into the vast garden of God's kingdom.


We are not great or special and we certainly aren't supreme.
It's time to stop pretending otherwise.

We are small, and we have work to do in these low and hidden places.


*Editor's note: These two examples are are specific examples from my actual life and neighborhood. As always, I write from my everyday ordinary life. Simply put - I am often preaching to myself, but anticipating there might be others who relate. I in no way meant that all Trump supporters are  paranoid. (Most of the people I love voted for Trump.) I apologize if this wasn't clear.