Saturday, March 14, 2020

Church, Wash Your Hands



I spent most of last weekend on the couch. Thursday morning while I was at work a tickle lodged in the back of my throat. By ten o’clock it had split into a nagging cough. My eyes were a bit watery. Goose bumps bloomed beneath my sweatshirt then receded so quickly, I wondered if I was imagining them. I powered through, washing my hands a hundred times. “Are you getting sick?” my boss asked. “I might be,” I answered. I wasn’t sure.

I tucked myself into bed that evening and stayed put while my symptoms ramped up then faded. “I’m cozy-sick,” I texted a long-distance friend. I was glad to be home, glad for the rest and for stretchy knits, thrilled my family was doting on me. 

By Monday, I was back to work at the soup kitchen. The air had absorbed a tinge of suspicion in the preceding days. By Monday, chills were beyond suspect. If you coughed, you went home. We commiserated as we cooked for the crowd, brainstorming for the possibility of disaster. What about our daily Meals-on-Wheels clients, and the retirees who deliver their food? What might become of our friends who hover just north of survival, relying on free lunches to help them get by?

I sealed crackers into Ziplock baggies, suddenly hyper-aware that one of my kids is immune-compromised, chiseled away from the monolithic “children” who are assumed immune to the worst of Covid-19. At the end of my shift, I drove straight to Kroger, refilling the prescription that keeps him stable and grabbing two large packs of toilet paper for good measure. 

On the short drive home, I watched a traffic light turn yellow. Two cars caught it just in time. Another hedged his bets and sped through as it flashed to red. A fourth car followed, and I wondered why it seemed like a chance worth taking. I thought about the long line of cars ahead of me, how precariously life dangles from the edges of ordinary days. One minute, you’re stocking up on toilet paper and trying to keep your wits. The next, someone takes an unnecessary risk, and you’re the one who pays.

Our world has changed in under a week.
Is the church paying attention? 

I’ve fielded a smattering of reactions from good, Christian people recently that can be tidily summarized as, “This is all being blown out of proportion.” I read an op-ed urging Christians to “behave differently” in the face of fear and danger. Don’t be cowardly. Don’t be dramatic. The world around us is panicking, the author wrote, so we should not. The proof of this “difference” would not be a daily routine marked by stark modification or polite social distancing. For true believers, the only option is to soldier forth. They will know we are Christians by our stubbornness. (If not that, then perhaps our blind dismissal of the facts.) 

I’ve watched people who love God and champion life throw their hands up in disgust, not alarm. They tick down the list of popular conspiracy theories, tapping the tabletop for emphasis. They spit mouthfuls of warped statistics and lean on the wobbly myth of exceptionalism. They imply my concern means a lack of trust at best, an indicator of idiocy at worst. 

Each time a Christian says they aren’t worried, unfair though it may be, I walk away angry. We have not learned our lesson. The body of Christ is simply not interested in breaking for the sake of its sister. It is not inclined to peel off its boot-straps and wade into the murk. It won’t concede defeat, not of body, not of will. At every turn, it chooses power over frailty, gas-lighting the kingdom of God by calling it faith. 

Steadily, American Christians (mostly white, mostly Evangelical) have beat the drum that it is not the government’s job to care for the sick. "The task belongs to the church," they say. Cautiously, I agree, jamming my stake in this cracked corner of common ground and raising my flag.

In Jeremiah 29:7 God sounds the alarm for an embodied concern for our community. “Its welfare will determine your welfare.Essentially, if even one of us is sick we’re all sunk. Right now, at a moment when protecting life converges with caring for the sick, we have the opportunity to prove we take God at his word.

I’m scheduled to preach the sermon for our small congregation this Sunday. The lectionary lists John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well, as the Gospel text. It’s one of my favorites. Here, we observe the longest recorded conversation between Jesus and another person. We watch as God-in-flesh meets a woman, considered weak and unworthy, in the midst of her suffering. He mirrors her aloneness. He listens. He sees her through the lens of compassion, acknowledging the most painful threads of her story. He does not ignore her, make fun of her, silence her, or tell her to settle down. He offers himself, living water.

The foundation of my faith requires that I look to Jesus as my example, that I allow his life to form the blood and bones of my own. Inconveniently, this almost always means serving others at the peril of my personhood. The bonds of my baptism ask that I uplift the cause of the collective over my own unique protection. We Christians tend to like this angle when it comes to war and the unborn. But our affections cool when it might mean looking weak or foolish.

It turns out, I won’t be preaching this Sunday. I won't be attending church, and I hope you won’t, either. Because today, our world is desperate for unflinching leadership and it looks like a space between bodies and a healthy dose of alarm. This minute, we form a vast communion of the panic-shocked and unless people of faith are willing to forego their egos, alliances, and offering plates, more of us will die. 

The example we must offer is not one shaped of forced smiles and head pats. Dismissiveness, mockery, and a veneer of toughness will not save our souls. We need courageous leaders willing to say “Stay home,” then go and do likewise. I'm thrilled to see many doing this, but it will take all of us.

Yes, it's time to discern creative care for the fragile; meals for the strictly home-bound elderly, sacrificial childcare for the single mom whose minimum wage job does not shut down just because school does, financial support for those whose work is unceremoniously halted and now face collapse. 

We have our work cut out for us, and it should cost us dearly. But first, we've got to take this seriously.

So, let the air inside our buildings go stale as we go about the business of protecting the frail. Let our own lights flicker and our smooth sermons go unsaid as we roll up our sleeves and acknowledge the spiritual currency of caution and tenderness. 

In the midst global devastation and personal loss, may this be the moment we signal our allegiance to the one who entrusted us to each other. 

Living water is still here for the taking, if only we are willing to draw up our buckets and be washed clean. 


Friday, December 6, 2019

Night Vision


I had just stacked the bags of groceries along the floorboards, making sure the milk wouldn't topple the eggs, checking my watch with relief that for once my timing had worked.

Backing out of my parking spot, I looked to the left, and there it was.

Tucked in between rooflines scrubbed dull from the decades and the glowering December cloud cover, peeking out from around the corner of gloom with just one eye - a bright spot. Small and warm.

I took a picture from the driver's seat. Then three more.

I drove away.

~

We had our weirdest Thanksgiving yet. Weirder than a roomful of strangers. Weirder than tacos served with pumpkin pie. Weirder than realizing mid-bite that some of our guests had once coexisted in the underworld of light-blocking curtains and meth labs.

This was the year we would run home to Ohio. This was the year we would humbly accept that no one really needed us, not like that.

But then a beloved neighbor, only fourteen years old, went missing. By Thursday our hearts were on fire and by Friday it was impossible to think about anything without picturing his mother's tears.

We schlepped around in our sweats and socks, ate pie for breakfast, and tried not to imagine horrific scenes. From the corner of my parents' hunter green couch I ordered 150 vigil candles while Cory talked to news reporters on the landline.

We wrote social media posts. We talked to authorities with raised voices.

"He's been trouble for a long time," we were told.
"He's a runaway."

"If he comes home, he comes home."

"He's loved."

"We're scared."
"We know him better," we countered.

Later that night, after the candles and the calls, after some solid attempts at distraction, after six endless days of vanishing, he emerged from thick darkness, safe.

"We tried to tell you," they said."

~

I always forget how disastrous the holidays are in our neck of the woods. It takes me by surprise each year, confusion followed by a spark of recognition. Ah yes, this is what we do in November.

Neighbors lose homes. They lose jobs. Relationships fracture. Out from the cracks of desperation, pain seeps and soaks. It saturates. It swallows some whole. "Just this once," they tell themselves. "Who cares?" they say out loud, to no one.


Meanwhile, I go numb without a drug.

This is the season of waiting in the dark. For hope. For peace. For Jesus. What does that mean when you've stood so long in low lamplight? How do we observe Advent - this quaint, symbolic thing - with eyes like bats, permanently accustomed to the night?

I'm still thinking of that parking lot sky. "I guess this must be hope," I'd said out loud to no one.


Hope is not being bullied by an "I told you so."

Hope is running to a safe place at midnight and believing the door would be opened.

Hope is acknowledging relapse as part of the process of recovery, sometimes.

Hope is being brave enough to say, "This is day one," again.

Hope is not being ashamed of believing the best.

Hope is lighting 150 candles in the dark on the worst of nights, and one on the best.

Hope shows up at Kroger, over asphalt, when you're out buying sausage for the soup. It's right there, not close enough to feel, but near enough to notice.


Hope arrives, small and warm.



{I stumbled on this short, meaningful video on hope earlier this week. "Hope is precisely not being happy," Laura Jean Truman shares. If you're struggling to hold onto hope or if you want to better empathize those who are struggling, this will help. Follow the Rise series by clicking here.}

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Resisting Miss Daisy





If I'm being completely honest, I felt like Robert's mom long before I knew what it would actually mean. I couldn't imagine what it would look like in the day-to-day or how loving him would land a wrecking ball against the clean lines of life as I knew it. If I had I summoned the courage the peel back each layer of my good intentions, to let my eyes bleed from the innermost rings of truth, I would look at you and speak slowly. 
Our    love    will    fix    him.

I'll save you the long, turbulent story arc: I was the one who needed fixing. It is purely a testament of our son's resilience that he endured our early “efforts” largely unfazed.

Adoption made me a mom at a great cost to my kids. There is no salve for this, no secret essential oil elixir. There's no Bible verse pliable enough to stretch around the truth that loss and gain are often mirror images. We’re a family. We love each other, depend on each other, end most nights piled onto the couch with adolescent feet nearer to our faces than we'd prefer.

As time passes, I continue to learn that my love is not enough. It’s so much more than buying their favorite cereal, making sure they read and run, wiping their tears, and saying prayers. Being their mom means looking past my own experience and into the scorching center of theirs, especially when it makes me defensive or uncomfortable. This is what love requires.

I didn't set out to ramble like this. But maybe it helps explain why I'm still up in arms about the Oscar awards, which aired a solid century ago in the standard time zone of Pop Culture. (Remember that night? Architectural hot pink taffeta? Gaga’s Shallow? Realizing Paul Rudd guards the fountain of youth?) It was all fun and games until “Green Book” was named Best Picture by a vastly white group of Academy voters.  

“Green Book” was the last movie I saw in a theater. At first glance it looked like something I would love, a movie a "woke" woman would happily pay cash to see on. I walked away disappointed. 

What appears to be good and even helpful in theory can crumble in the hands of power. The story wasn't inherently bad, but the perspective from which it was told was all wrong. In contrast to other Best Picture contenders like “Blackkklansman” and “Black Panther,” this was a movie for white people, with a white hero, written from the perspective of white people imagining the experience of People of Color. It was Driving Miss Daisy 2.0. Only this time, decades had passed and I am the mom of four non-white kids and neighbor to many, all of whom struggle to be seen.

The morning after the Oscar’s I listened, as I do most days, to The Daily podcast. The episode was titled "What Hollywood Keeps Getting Wrong About Race." You can listen by clicking here and I hope you will. In a short 23 minutes Wesley Morris sheds important light on the conversation around the fantasies central to mainstream Hollywood's portrayals of race and racism, one of which says "prolonged exposure to a black person is going to cure [us] of [our] racism." Morris continued, "Green Book should be about a man named Don Shirley...Tony Vallelonga is the actual protagonist, a nice, lovable, cartoonish racist."

~

The more time passes, the quieter I get. Right now, my writing voice is lodged somewhere in the throat of my consciousness, a chicken bone poking at my best ideas, blocking smooth passage. It's getting harder to swallow around it.

I have come to understand that I am so many of you, with Robert as a son. I'm a white, middle class woman who lived and breathed white culture and white faith in perpetuity and exclusivity for most of my life, until a black young man crashed through my own mangled fantasies.

Familiarity helps us clear the hurdle of understanding and I’m so glad you’re here with me on this footrace. I only want to be cautious that I'm not another white person commandeering stories that aren’t solely mine.

I woke last Sunday morning to the news that the officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark will not face criminal charges, a headline I would have once breezed past. An hour later, Robert hugged me at church and I said, "I just want the world to leave you alone."

He chuckled, pretending to not adore the fact that his mom loses sleep on his behalf. For a second, he tried playing the macho card, but he's no stranger to any of it. My learning curve was paved, unfairly, by him

Where we stand changes what we see.
Changing what we see changes how we think.
Changing how we think changes what we do.

If I'm proposing anything, it's that we move our bodies toward the pain points throbbing around us. Amid the small things that weave into life as we know it, (for me, packing a suitcase, chopping asparagus, folding laundry, and writing a book endorsement) let’s consider where we're standing, who we're standing with, and what reorienting ourselves might cost us. 

Here in the tempest breath of March, staring at the winter sun, may our addictions to comfort, niceness, and fantasy scorch into husks and blow away. May this be the moment we truly begin to see.



* I planned to send this out as a secret email, to my close community of Tea Time subscribers, where I often share my most personal writing. I decided to share this one more broadly, but if you'd like to join me for "tea" and receive future emails, click here to sign up. I usually send out emails just once a month and it has become my favorite place to write!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Blind Shall See



It was a typical Sunday morning, sun streaming through the stained-glass window, the microphone making its rounds through the sanctuary for sharing time, when Brian raised his hand to speak. "I’m part of a local coalition against homelessness,” he began. “In December we started talking about what could be done to help homeless people this winter. A few weeks later, an overnight warming shelter was opened. It’s unbelievable that this came together so fast. That says something about our community. The mayor, non-profit agencies, even some churches helped meet these needs. I’m grateful.” 

I’ve learned to perk up when Brian speaks. He’s a man of measured words, well-studied and direct, with a teddy-bearish demeanor and the sort of quick wit that makes him everyone’s buddy. Having experienced homelessness himself, his perspective has opened my eyes to the complex rules of survival on the streets, and the rigors of compassionately walking someone in from the cold. 

I still can’t shake his words, “Even some churches helped.”
 
I’d read about the need for a shelter from the comfort of my kitchen over several lunches of reheated left-overs. The newspaper picked up the story of a local couple trying to provide refuge to homeless men when temps dip below twenty degrees. “We don’t want [these men] to freeze to death,” Julie Kramer explained. “We want them to survive. That is our mission.”

The fuse was lit on this conversation. How many homeless men exist within city limits? Is an emergency shelter really needed? If so, whose responsibility is it? Powerful people asked important questions while Mother Nature drummed her fingers, holding temps steady at an unseasonably warm twenty-five degrees. I followed the updates, my mind drifting to the estimated 80 congregations in our small city, comfortably vacant overnight. 

Driving out of town one evening in the dusky, December half-light, I passed a church sign with a familiar message, “Remember Jesus this Christmas.”  

Our problem is not that we don't remember Jesus. Our problem is that we do not recognize him.

He is the woman up the street, exhausted from the grind of relapse and recovery. 

He is the child who recently chirped, smiling, “I love myself even though I’m brown!” 

He is the man doubling up on socks, huddled in the “tent cities” we try to ignore, half-hidden in the overgrowth. 

We remember him, of course we do. But do we see him? Do we want to?

~

It was still December, right in the middle of the brainstorming sessions, courthouse rallies, and newspaper articles when a long-lost friend showed up at the front door after having disappeared for a while. He emerged from the shadows in a mishmash of layers, collapsing onto me and Cory in a despairing, moonlit group hug.  Sobbing into our necks, he rattled off a discouraging state of affairs, pausing only to rake in jagged gulps of air. Tears of regret and weariness dripped from his blue eyes to his scruffy beard. 

I couldn’t help but grin in the dark. He’s back!

That dimly-lit stoop was a hospital waiting room. An airport terminal. A sanctuary. Only after my eyes had fully adjusted to the darkness, was I able to really see him. Jesus

Only Jesus could turn us away from ourselves and toward our wounded brother. Only He could abolish the murky past, the missing pieces, the gaps in our understanding. Only He could elevate an ordinary weeknight to a bittersweet homecoming. 

When we train our eyes to seek God’s face in our ordinary midst, we receive Christ, moment by moment. He came as a baby, but he didn't stay that way. Until we pluck Jesus from the manger and track his audacity to the margins, our relationship with him will languish in the caverns of our memory when we could be hugging him on the porch.

It’s now the last sweep of January and our city is being slammed with the lowest wind chills on record, plunging to fifty degrees below zero. We didn’t know this was coming, those weeks we delighted in trading our down coats for fall jackets and allowing government officials to find shelter for the poor. 

I'm comforted that there's a warm bed for anyone in need, thanks to the local non-profit that opened its heart and its building for overnight use. Yes, a few churches came together in support of this solution, but I have to wonder what we miss when we hesitate to tear our own doors off the hinges in welcome, our vision clouded by the empty promises of hyper-vigilance and self-protection. 

God moved his kingdom into every heartbroken neighborhood and hides in plain sight. Should we choose to live as if it’s true, eyes open and hopeful at street level, exposed to the elements as we wave Him into warmth, our churches will be shaken, our lives will be complicated, and our cities will flourish. 

We will see his glory in our midst and it will set us free.




“I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” Matthew 25:45

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory…” John 1:14



Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Cozy Christmas Cautionary Tale


Calvin keeps asking me if I'm going to cry this year if the Christmas tree falls down. Parents of adorable little boys who still cuddle on your lap and ask if they can marry you, one day they will be 8th graders, adept at picking the scabs of your shakiest pitfalls and generally keeping you humble.

(They'll also get stinkier and much more clever. They'll shock you with the clarity through which they see the world, sniffing out injustice through a deluge of memes you won't find funny. They might even email you Youtube videos about North Korea in the middle of the school day. Subject: wow. It's all pretty amazing, honestly, even if it is entirely beside the point of this blog post.)

So, back to the tree.

Last year we switched to a small, table-top tree. Short story long, our house has remarkably little space, which is something that only became clear as our humans kept getting bigger. For years we had crammed the tree in wherever we could find space. We eventually made the tree skinnier. And then we made it shorter.

Part of me believed I had finally arrived at some previously foreign place of spiritual maturity. Look at how good I am at Christmas priorities! Look at how I've grown!

And then it all came crashing down.

Literally.

The tree was knocked from its perch and I from my internal high horse. My beloved vintage ornaments, sourced over the years from Ebay and thrift stores were shattered. I watched it happen from the kitchen and I busted out crying.

I couldn't stop.

I cried while I swept up the mess. The kiddo who had accidentally knocked it over ran upstairs sobbing. We were a hot mess on a cold night, with enough shame to go around. I was sad for what I'd lost and even for what I thought I deserved. I was sick over who I was revealing myself to be.

More than anything, the whole scene was a reality check for me that I'm still human. The moment we think we have arrived at any place of moral authority, everyday life waits to knock us to the floor and shatter our pride. This should come as no surprise. In fact, it's all the more reason to celebrate the humble arrival of God, who shook the world and brought kings to their knees when he showed up as a baby waiting to be worshiped.

We know Christmas really, truly is not about the tree. Have a big tree. A small tree. A wonky tree. A lavish tree. Don't have a tree at all. Decorate it by theme because it brings you joy. Let the kids clump all of their handmade ornaments right up front because you have a healthier view of control than I do. Do your Christmas thing, party people. Do what brings you a bit of freedom.

After years of going all out in various, sometimes perplexing, often complicated ways, this year I found myself craving breathing room. With a wreath around its neck, so to speak.

I had recently devoured Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith  and thoroughly enjoyed it. (It's a BEAUTIFUL book and it's only $13 on Amazon right now. It's also available in Target stores! No one asked me to say this, I just think you'll love it as much as I did)

The book is a gentle invitation to clear away the clutter, so that's what I did.

Here's my 2018 Christmas home.


Changing out the mugs on my rack is my favorite rhythm for changing with the seasons. This is my personal extravagance, fueled by trips to the thrift store, and I'm not sorry. (Cory recently opened a drawer and went pale. "Did you know this is full of mugs?" Um....yes?)

So, the tree. It's a little larger than last year's adorable live mini tree because I waited too long and Kroger had already sold out. We're back to an artificial tree because I apparently am not hipster enough to sustain live pine two years in a row. We put this bad boy up last Saturday, December 8th. Then we realized we didn't have the right lights, so we decorated it on the 9th. And by "we" I mean I decorated it while most of the family was gone and while Silas and his pal Palyn were busy chipping ice off the curb of our street then hauling it upstairs to the bathtub where they mixed it with blue paint. The incident is still under investigation.

My point in telling you this is: 1) We don't have to let ourselves feel rushed by an invisible timeline for How to be Festive. And 2) You, like I, might hold some rosy ideals about decorating the tree with your family, but maybe your kids aren't actually that into and it's worth it to just get it done youself so that you can skip ahead to the glowy, twinkly, happy vibe it lends.

Cory took that photo a couple of winters ago on his way to the jail. Isn't it beautiful?


Me decorating the tree: 
 
I'm going to organize the ornaments in rainbow order again, like last year!

Wait, do I remember rainbow order?

Of course you do, Shannan. Everyone remembers ROY-G-BIV.

Pro Tip: Start with yellow at the top because you don't have very many yellow ornaments. 

(Stares at tree with yellow bulbs for far too long, thinking very hard about what color comes next.)

DOES IT WRONG.


The thrill of hopppppppe!

Magic in the middle.
This is how Christmas always arrives.

I strung some snowflakes through the chandelier for the first time. I've never kept things so simple at Christmas and I'm loving it.

Moo-ey Christmas!
(I hate myself.)


But really, that's it.
I didn't buy anything. It's not perfect. It won't win any design awards.

But it feels like us. It feels like candles and sweatpants and salsa at ten pm. It feels like dinner when the sky is already black and piling under blankets while we watch TV. It feels like those dramatic women singing White Christmas on the radio. It feels like sugar in our teeth. It feels like love and hope, the sadness that shows up without regard for the season, it feels like chasing our breath as we walk down the street to church and following it back home.

It's December 13th and it's easy to feel frantic. To do my tiny part in quieting the noise, I'm offering my free 12 Ways of Christmas series again. It's not a Bible or Advent study, but we'll talk about Jesus quite a bit, why he came for us, and what that means for our ordinary lives. It's light on bossiness and heavy on practical ways to live a truer, more meaningful, simplified Christmas season.

Sign up here if you want to choose peace over pressure and hope over hustle. 


And since I never got around to showing you what I did to recognize Fall in our home, I'm going to share a few photos of that, too.

You'll see that I kept that more simple than usual, too. (Thanks, Nester!) And that not much changed from November to December. I took my time. I left plenty of white space. I'm in love.




Pillows: Target

I was horrified with myself for dropping $30 each for two of those black and white pillows but guess what? Our couch is comfortable to relax on again! I'm happy about them every single day. Gold pillow was on clearance.


Wood "gather" artwork from Joyfully Said Signs.
I grabbed it from storage in the basement and looped the letters over two nails that were already sticking out of the wall from some past decorating escapade.

Forget the layers of artwork and tchotchkes stuff. I found this strand of ginkgo leaves I had pressed with Silas back when he was in pre-school. Oh, the flood of memories! Oh, the pinching of my heart! Yada yada, up they went.

(I forgot to snap a photo of the TV cupboard in December. Spoiler alert: One pine cone wreath and a little felted deer found at the thrift store last year for $0.50.)






(Thank you, @goodandlovely! This was the perfect cozy, calm touch heading into cooler months.)

I dragged this inside from the back patio and it doesn't look this beautiful one month later, but I'm not giving up!)


Happy December, friends.

Love,
Shannan



Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Downhill Rise to Greatness



I was sitting at my kitchen island enjoying a bowl of reheated soup when I read that ProPublica was actively investigating a local story involving two Elkhart City Police officers who had beating a man in handcuffs months prior. Though I live in Goshen, Elkhart is just a few miles up the street, our neighbor to the North. It had my attention.

The video footage which emerged as a result of the investigation was shocking, yes. It was not, however, surprising. Just another page from the same, devastating book. After knocking his chair backwards, officers Cory Newland and Joshua Titus are seen delivering blow after blow to Mario Guerrero Ledesma's head and face, his hands still cuffed behind him. Not long after one officer calls Ledesma a "piece of sh*t," two more officers saunter into the room, leaning against the cinder block wall, looking on in casual, almost bored observation before one of them simply suggests the beating might "stop."

I reread the report, piecing together names both familiar and otherwise. Prior to a handful of years ago, this sort of news wouldn't have caused my heart rate to pitch. Back then, I believed there were good people and bad people. I believed I was one of the good ones, free to stand center-street along with Power, while the others were shoved as far away as possible, with force if necessary.

Six years ago my family relocated from a six-acre homestead to the loose grid of a city waking up to an ever-evolving identity.  We are immigrant-rich and manufacturing-strong. A bright speck of open-mindedness in a sea of white-bread Conservatism. A stain. It depends on who you ask, and when.

Here, families are patched together as much as they are born, your lump of clay mixed with mine, spun on a wheel until the edges are worn smooth and something functional emerges. Worldviews bleed into each other, the air around us violet-hued. We found peace in the chaos, along with live music and exemplary tamales.

Not long after our move, our oldest son made his way into our family at the age of nineteen, already swept into the criminal justice system. Five years later, his hands remain cuffed behind his back in many ways. He's stopped counting the blows. Sentences served give way to court-appointed classes, lengthened probation terms, and fees and fines that tower precariously in the untended corners of his life. They call this "reentry," though it would be more aptly described as "chronic satellite incarceration."

Finding kinship with the ignored had changed us.  
Paying attention comes with a cost.

I dissected the newspaper in the weeks that followed with fresh intensity. Chief of police, Ed Windbigler, who previously said the accused officers "just went a little overboard,"  issuing no more than reprimand, was now forced beneath the microscope of scrutiny from a public he was tasked to protect. After eleven months of silence, equivocation, and backpedaling, both officers were charged with misdemeanor counts of battery. This clocked in as Officer Newland's ninth disciplinary incident (including multiple suspensions) in a term of service that spans ten years. 

At a town hall meeting hosted by Elkhart's Mayor, members of the community expressed disappointment and even outrage, calling for the immediate firing of officers Newland and Titus while the the assistant police chief  defended the department, attacking the media outlets "ambushing" the department.

Same book, different page.

The color drained from November and we all grew colder as the drama unfolded one town away. On November 26th I opened the paper to an opinion piece, written by Jim Bontrager, a Senior chaplain of the Elkhart City Police Department. In his glowing tribute to Chief Ed Windbigler, Bontrager didn't so much build a case for Power to be left unquestioned as much as he reached up and plucked it from thin air. To him, it wasn't right that the man with such a high level of authority should be critiqued for promoting officers who had mounted legacies of disciplinary disaster.

"One of the first things Ed did was to clear the playing field...Their past was just that, their past...from that minute forward they could put their best foot forward and shine," he wrote.

His comments left me wondering - when does my son get to put his best foot forward and shine? 
Where was the line drawn between Mario Ledesma's past and his future when his chair was shoved backwards, his head appearing to strike the concrete floor? Are second chances only reserved for the financially prosperous, the publicly esteemed, the popular, or the crisply-uniformed?

Bontrager's tone-deaf and blatantly privileged air of defensiveness continued. "Learning from failure is at the heart of the American experience. Our history is replete with examples of great leaders who made extremely bad decisions in the earlier stages of life only to rise to greatness afterwards."

It pains me to my core to know he is exactly right. Here, at the heart of our American experience, grave mistakes are too often rewarded with positions of power. The rise to greatness can, indeed, chart a bold trajectory from corruption and abuse to fame and glory. But only if an agreement of untouchability is brokered out on center-street, where Power stands unchecked while the under-valued masses jam their brakes, straining to find new routes not to greatness, but to basic survival.

Meanwhile, on the backstreets, a twelve-year old child is expelled from middle school after a minor incident, in part because his older brother had previously been "trouble." Following the data, particularly as a black child, he is now at significantly greater risk of one day sitting in handcuffs, at the mercy of men who have the luxury of shrugging off their own failures. Where along this path will his exceptional qualities for leadership be noticed and rewarded?  

Unseen in a long-neglected alley, my son is pulled over four times in two days for failing to engage his turn signal according to the letter of the law. Each time, he is asked if he has drugs or weapons in his car, never mind that he has never been charged with either. When will his playing field be cleared?

In a back corner of a neighborhood seen as less-than, tears drip from my friend's chin as she explains that her meds are off, causing intense anxiety to bob up from the darkness of a depression she has never known this side of sobriety. She's a warrior, a bright-eyed wife and the mama of a happy, healthy child, but money is tight and her family is denied the common stop-gaps of food assistance and state medical insurance due to a drug charge from years ago. Tell me, Chaplain Bontrager, when will she be untethered from her past mistake?

"I categorically reject the notion that those who make numerous mistakes are unqualified to lead," the piece continued. I know many who would agree. The question becomes, when will our society collectively reject the idea that people (particularly People of Color and the poor) who make mistakes are unqualified to simply live without persistent judgment? When will they deserve the basic rights of safe housing, robust jobs with opportunities for advancement, and, above all else, the right to enjoy an existence unmarked by hyper visibility and excessive scrutiny? When is their debt really paid? 

I agree with Chaplain Bontrager's final point, (though unnecessarily smug,) that the reporter, Christian Sheckler, bears a namesake that "consists of those who sit in gratitude for the second chance afforded them." It appears Bontrager and I share a common faith, which presumably centers on justice for everyone, no exceptions.

In the Old Testament, God, through the prophet Amos, delivers a critical blow, threatening to effectively decimate those "who twist justice, making it a bitter pill for the oppressed." (Amos 5:7) "There will be crying in all the public squares and mourning in every street," He promises. (Amos 5:16b) He will do what it takes to protect the oppressed.

Until then, we will watch the watchers, dragging the truth out across the asphalt of center street, where everyone is good and everyone is bad.

We will call to task those tasked to lead, rejecting the belief that mistakes can only be scrubbed from the histories of certain kinds of people.

We will lay down our lives, building ladders of our bodies so that one day, all of the sons and all of the daughters can drop their cuffs and rise to greatness.