The Process of Discernment

About a year or two ago, I had this idea, this burning vision, that I was trying to understand. It mobilized me so much that I wrote people, met with organizations and even pursued a grant. But then I had this sense of not now, not yet. Today I remembered that vision and asked myself, “Had I just misunderstood it?”

You see, this vision was this big room, and each Cincinnati neighborhood was represented by the a 8′ tower that looked like a building. There’s 52 neighborhoods in the city, and there were 52 pillars in this vision, laid out in a grid pattern, so as you walked through it, almost as if you were walking the a city.

Each tower had the name of the neighborhood and a couple infographs telling the story of racial and economic disparity through the decades. On the other side of the towers (in the “windows”) were pictures of people from the neighborhood as well as the places they took pride in or that served as the heart of their community. Lastly, there’d be some kind of audio that would share people’s stories, but only if you were close to their “neighborhood.”

On the other side of this installation, we’d have a video sharing a few stories of what it’s like to be in Cincinnati and some of the big obstacles we are facing.

So, that was the vision. Today I suddenly recalled that vision and thought about where God has put me, in a role where it is possible for me to potentially engage with people across the city, possibly from every neighborhood. And as I work through the classes I’m in right now and ask myself what this vision meant, I’m beginning to wonder if the dream wasn’t some massive project for me to create, but instead it was a visual expression for what my path would look like. This vision was meant to be a means of education: to reveal the HUMANITY that exists in every single neighborhood (give them faces), to recognize our successes while also opening our eyes to places of total failure. To stir hearts to become reconcilers in this city (not necessarily the same as peacemakers).

I really don’t know yet but I do feel as if I’ve gained some kind of understanding around all of this. It’s as if a fog is lifting and I can discern shapes and movement but none of the details.

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Racial Castes, in the Present

We see racial castes at work in our country today through all sorts of institutions, and the voices that support those institutions are becoming loud. What was, until recently, structured predominantly around race but without any of the language indicating that, is now starting to show a little bit of its true color, and that color is white. Joe Walsh, a Republican Congressman from Illinois tweeted, “This is war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.” This clearly expresses a sentiment that there are castes, that Obama and Black Lives Matter “punks” aren’t part of the real America, even if America was built on a foundation of black bodies (and indigenous peoples) who have been told for centuries that they don’t belong and they don’t matter. Joe Walsh is echoing the sentiment of racists that have directed this country’s path since its inception. The Washington Post reports similar statistics to what we read in The New Jim Crow: “Today, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, with 2.2 million behind bars…And while black Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 37 percent of the incarcerated population. Forty percent of police killings of unarmed people are black men, who make up merely 6 percent of the population, according to a 2015 Washington Post report,” (emphasis added). The Sentencing Project is an excellent resource for understanding just how deep this discrimination grows. In their thirties, one in every ten black males will be locked up on any given day. White youths are three times less likely to be held in juvenile detention when compared to Native American youths. While these are examples of institutions, we have events happening on a daily basis that demonstrate the intentional movements of certain people or groups which target the continuation of these racial castes.

The words “Law and Order” are often used when Jeff Sessions is being discussed, a red flag to those who understand the background of the movement of using “Law and Order” as a justification for growing government institutions that have structural racism. He’s served over 20 years in the US Senate and has a previous background in the Department of Justice. He has also been a delegate to the annual Alabama Methodist Conference, according to Newsweek. While he worked as a federal prosecutor, he failed in his nomination to be a judge. The same article cites Ted Kennedy speaking out at that time, saying that Sessions was a “…throwback to a shameful era, which I know both black and white Americans thought was in our past.” The reports of racism are not limited only to Ted Kennedy. “During that Senate hearing, a former assistant U.S. attorney named Thomas Figures, said Sessions called him “boy” and told him to watch himself around “white folks.” Figures also accused Sessions of opposing the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Council.” BBC further reports that, “He had also joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he thought they were OK until he heard they smoked marijuana.” Much of his efforts have been focused towards immigration. In addition to his support of “the wall,” Sessions also believes that much of our economic struggle originates in letting too many legal immigrants into the country. As they move towards confirming Sessions, the acting Attorney General Sally Yates was relieved of her duties. The White House released a statement through Sean Spicer that described her actions as political and a betrayal of the DOJ and the US citizens. Reuters reports that, “Yates said late on Monday that the Justice Department would not defend the order against court challenges, saying that she did not believe it would be ‘consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.’” She was fired hours later. The recent confirmation of Sessions and the handling of Sally Yates are both examples of the struggle to take power by a group heavily invested in maintaining racial castes in the United States.

Moving Away

I found out yesterday a friend of mine is moving away and it made me more sad than I expected. As a native Cincinnatian, you get used to people leaving and I don’t see him often now that we don’t work together but it still sucks. He’s not the only one leaving or considering leaving.

“Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.”
Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven 

I used to want to get away from Cincinnati, you know? I wanted to get away from what felt like a tiny town with suffocating people and go… anywhere but here. Looking back, I can see that was more about how I felt than it was about the city. I doubt I would have been happier anywhere else. At the time though, when God put His finger on my heart and on this city and said, “Abide in me through them,”  my gut response was, “Shit.” I mean it’s not a classy response but it’s how I felt.

I’m locked into this city and saying no to money? Sounds like sacrifice. Yet here I am over two years later and I LOVE Cincinnati and her people. I praise God for the community He has blessed me with and the opportunities He’s provided me to build into others and be built into. I still want to travel, I want to see things. But I’m not running from or to anything anymore. This is a city that God is moving in and I am excited to be a part of it.

Not everyone feels that way about Cincinnati and I get it. Maybe Cincinnati isn’t part of their story. My last class I read this book written by a man who was dying (paper posted earlier). In part, I think he was saying what I believe: that life is not all “live, love, laugh…” It is suffering and sacrifice. For instance, the cost of love, particularly when death is involved, is loss. Does that mean we do not love? No, we should love all the more fiercely and profoundly; let this life be something that is a tragedy when it ends. The REAL question is, what do we sacrifice and suffer for? What are we giving our life over to?

“Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, and so they give their lives to little or nothing. One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it…and then it’s gone. But to surrender who you are and to live without belief is more terrible than dying – even more terrible than dying young.”
Jeanne d’Arc

For me, it used to be promotions and money. Relationships outside of work suffered for that and I was willing to leave my family and friends halfway across the country for a pile of paper. Not even a passion! I wasn’t invested in my industry; it was just money… But now? Cincinnati. The possibility of building into a community where I hope to someday have my own family surrounded by these people I love dearly and of course my sister and parents? These things are worth dedicating my life towards.

 

Prayer of Thanks and for Clarity

Abba, the grace and love you pour over me is without end. I see the love You have for me even as I grow frustrated at my own weakness and shortcomings. I give thanks that you teach me to love others the way you love me, as imperfectly as I might execute this. I praise God that I witness in Cincinnati a city being transformed by people who are being transformed by you. Abba, Love that Moves Us, Hope that Gives Us Breathe, we offer all good things as proof of your love. Please guide myself and my community in this time as to our purposes; provide us with clear vision and passionate hearts that ache to move the world. We are your people, Lord. In your name I pray, amen.

God is Entrepreneurial

I went to a Christian entrepreneurial conference late last week,  the Unpolished Conference in Cincinnati, and it really made me think. The truth is,  I’m not particularly entrepreneurial. I would say walking away from it I’ve learned what I really enjoy and am best at is helping expand, execute and realize the ideas of others as well as problem solve. And yet I also do some very entrepreneurial things. Why is that?

I think it is because if we are in a deep relationship with God, we feel called to do things that are far beyond our current resources, require abnormal risk, and often either grows us or fulfills a need within our community. My friend, who doesn’t see herself as a home builder or entrepreneur, bought land and is looking at ways to build in the city. A man I know who is resistant to growing his business (he is a liberator of God’s people, providing transportation to the disabled) opened up to the idea of adding a person and is now seeing the abundance God provides on the other side of His promise. I feel called to do an art installation project to create a deeper sense of community in Cincinnati (a project of which I am wholly unqualified for) but it will grow me outside the corporate world.

I think if you asked any of us if these are things we particularly want to do, we would probably tell you we were instead doing what we felt called to do. That doesn’t change the entrepreneurial characteristics required of us. It just means we lean less into ourselves and more into God and our community, giving the glory to them.