How Do You Love Others

In class, we watched a video like so many other videos I’ve seen shared in the news or on social media: it captured another negative encounter between police and black lives. This time, it was of Dejerria Becton, a black girl who was fifteen years old. The video, I found out when researching, was made by a white boy who was friends with many of the kids at the pool party. He noted that the cop would yell at his black friends while completely ignoring him. It reminds us yet again of the inherent bias against one race to the benefit of the other by those in power. Where white children are taught to trust police officers and go to them in times of trouble or concern, black children are provided a very different lesson on how to interact with cops. The question was asked if I love Dejerria Becton, or any of the other black women who have been murdered through state sanctioned violence, as much as I love my sister or mother. The answer is no; proximity plays a huge factor in the psychology of relationships, of who we feel closer to or further from. But I do love her as I love humanity, and I lament any time where a person is not in possession of dignity. I mourn the injustice we see perpetuated against her, and I grieve the hurt on all sides that results from encounters like this.

It is a core belief of mine that God intended for each person to be in possession of human dignity: to be worthy of respect and treated with compassion. I lament whenever I see or learn of a person who has had their dignity stripped from them; when through actions or words they are told that their value is not the same of others around them and that they deserve to be treated as less than human. This is what we do when we target one population instead of another, when we use language that de-humanizes, when we say that released prisoners have serve their time but they are never treated that way. These things I lament.

I mourn, and I believe God mourns, when there is injustice. Deuteronomy 10:18 says, “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.” Do we not take a people and make a clear majority of them orphans and widows through our “justice” system? I feel I have a sense for where God’s heart would fall on this issue, and what kind of reconciliation he seeks so that there will be justice for the marginalized. This is because God is not an unjust God.

Lastly I grieve; I grieve for the suffering inflicted on Dejerria, I grieve for the man who felt he was entitled to treat others in the manner he did. I grieve for all the children who cannot be children because their bodies are viewed as a threat purely because of the color of their skin. I grieve that our society cannot benefit from the true gifts that a massive percentage of our population might be able to offer, that we cannot be a community in commune, because we are too busy imprisoning people who have no reason to be behind bars.  I grieve because there’s people out there who would tell Dejerria, “you’re lucky, it could have been worse,” and that there are people who see this and still insist that there haven’t been systemic issues over race for fifty or more years. And this grief ends with me being angry that Dejerria doesn’t feel loved by all the people in her community. That this is the brokenness that we work to reconcile.

So, I move towards loving Dejerria and any of the other black women who have been murdered through state sanctioned violence, not the way I love my sister or mother but the way I love a fellow creation made in the image of God: as no more than myself or less than myself. I love them as a critical part of a community that is not whole without them in it. I love them deeply.

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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.

Reflection: Power, My Hope and My Fear

My hope, with regards to power, is that I might use what power I have to transform our society into a place that is a greater reflection of what we are called to as followers of Christ. Proverbs 14:31 (ESV) reminds us of what that calls does, and doesn’t, look like: “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” There is verse after verse that calls us to stand against oppression and injustice if we are God’s people and so that is what I must use my power to do. The challenge in this hope is specificity: rather than speaking in generalities and taking no action I had to look for tangible ways by which I might become part of God’s redemptive nature, to effectively help bring about change for generations of people. Some of our most vulnerable people are actually our children. In Cincinnati, we are second in the nation for the highest child poverty rate of 53.1%, just behind Detroit’s staggering 59%. (2012 American Community Survey) I couldn’t help but ask myself what hope one could have in the future if, as a small child, you must fight pangs of hunger while facing insecurity in house and struggle to be clothed properly. In order to transform my city, we were going to have to transform the experience of our city’s youth. And so that became my hope, that I would be able to use my talents and power alongside others who hoped to transform the path of Cincinnati’s children and thus, transform their lives.

There is a certain amount of fear that comes up around this. How do I help in ways that don’t further victimize those we are coming alongside? How do I make sure we are working with people to help break us all free from an oppressive system that disables their self-sufficiency and sense of purpose rather than reaffirming that their salvation lies in the good will of affluent, mostly white people? Psalm 3:2-6 (NIV) is a reminder of where my hope lies even when I feel like we are coming against unchangeable things: “Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down to sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.’” And so I equip myself as much as possible with the knowledge available from those who have come before us as well as studies from the sciences. I also rely on the Spirit to lead us in way that is fruitful and abundant.

A Prayer

Oh the weary and the broken,

the sad, the mourning, the lost

whose heart aches for rest and wholeness.

Oh Lord, make your presence tangible,

show us your tears, Abba,

let us hear you weep with us.

Open our hearts, eyes and ears

Reveal Your steadfast love and

proclaim your faithfulness to us

that we might be reminded

that you are not a God of the past

but the God of forever.

That you move in the present,

and you have plans for our future.

Remind us that You claim us

as your adopted children.

Remind us that you are in the here and now

in the spaces of our relationships

in the acts of love, kindness, grace, hope, and forgiveness.

Call to mind that we are Your dwelling place.

 

We are a faithless people,

quick to forget Your heart and sacrifice.

We act as disobedient children.

Correct us in love so we might not forget

You are Creator of all.

You are the Intercessor, the Guide and the Seal.

You are Sophia, bringing us your Truth and Wisdom.

You are the shepherd whose voice is known to his sheep.

You are our Savior and Redeemer, using all things for your good,

for your glory and your Kingdom.

You are light and love,

the source of all good and wonderful things.

To You we give thanks that we are part of your story,

constantly in the process of being saved by you.

King and Counselor, Corrector and Comforter, Judge and Advocate,

you are all things to your people.

Oh my God, how good you are.

 

New Year, New Goals

New Years resolutions have always seemed like a thing that everyone around me sets and then (most often) fails to accomplish. A way to set up disappointment before the new year even gets started.

My roommate had a tradition that she shared with me (and I tweaked a little bit) where she takes all of these categories and sets goals for each and then checks in on them throughout the year.  I added scripture I found for each category which helped lead me to the goals I set.  I think it transformed the way I view the upcoming year and what I could accomplish in it. I’m going to share those today.

FINANCIAL

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.” Proverbs 3:9-10

  1. Make a budget and stick to it.
  2. Continue to give first; don’t let fear prevent generosity.

LEADERSHIP

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3

  1. Find a mentor who leads through a posture of humility and compassion.

PHYSICAL

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” I Corinthians 6:19-20

  1. Regularly track food (MyFitness Pal).
  2. Build stamina and strength: at least 30 minutes of activity at least 3 times a week.
  3. Lose 50 lbs. this year.

COMMUNITY

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.” Romans 15:5

  1. Be intentional about developing relationships in Uptown and Clifton (regularly show up to groups and serving role).
  2. Demonstrate a servant heart, both as a leader and a follower.
  3. Pray for my groups more regularly.

CREATIVE

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

  1. Get a keyboard/piano.
  2. Make a stained glass piece.

INTELLECTUAL

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17

  1. Finish my Master’s Degree.
  2. Develop an understanding and application of the prophetic.

PRAYER

“praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all saints.” Ephesians 6:18

  1. Pray for the right leadership to be called to Katie’s camp.
  2. Establish a prayer board with Katie and pray together each Sunday for the people and things on the board.

REST

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat-for he grants sleep to those he loves.” Psalm 127:2

  1. REMEMBER Psalm 127:2.
  2. Schedule rest weekly.
  3. Sleep at least 7 hours each night (set sleep reminders, track via Fitbit)
  4. Spend time at a cabin and time near some water.

COURAGE/REQUESTS

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:7-12

  1. Foster an open heart and grow in vulnerability (eyes and heart open to opportunities).
  2. Seek a godly man more faithfully and hopefully.

 

Empathy and Being a Voice for the Marginalized

“When are we going to have the moral courage to speak in terms other than economy…” I struggle to understand people that have lacked empathy in the face of the fear and concern of minorities and marginalized people which rose out of the recent election; people who think it’s about who won/lost. I’ve often heard it said, “Those who voted for Trump but insist they aren’t racist/sexist/etc. are really only saying that I don’t matter at all; their wealth matters more than the wellbeing of others.” If we don’t stand for something, we stand for nothing. Let us make sure we strive to maintain the innate human dignity of every person.

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:7-11

 

The Hope that Lies In Relationship with God

I am humbled. Truly and deeply humbled.

The faithfulness of my God even when I struggle amazes me. I wrote at one point about how God tore down everything in my life that I had built in order to lay a good foundation. This allowed everything that was built afterwards to point to God’s power to redeem; that it demonstrates not my glory but God’s.

He called me to move to Clifton and when I gave up control, He gave me a beautiful home with a faithful Christian woman that challenges, inspires and balances me.

I said no to the move from Cincinnati that I’d always wanted and stayed in a city I never loved and God transformed my heart and vision for Cincinnati; through my volunteering, classes and relationships I’ve come to see this city and her people for the beautiful love story she is.

Less than two months ago I left my job because I felt like that was what I was supposed to do. I spent time in prayer and reflection asking God to lead me. I struggled and fought, wept and submitted. I put all my trust and faith in God who I believed would show up where I had heard His promise. This gave me time to learn to rest, to learn to listen, to deepen my faith and better understand the call God put on my heart. When I was ready, He connected me to the most beautiful team of people whose mission is the same as mine; I wouldn’t have recognized that this was the ideal role for me if God hadn’t called me to leave when He did and I hadn’t responded with a yes.

Every place I thought I would feel stifled by my faith I have found instead to be full of freedom. I’ll make a lot less money and I certainly own substantially less than I used to but it turns out money and THINGS were never able to bring me joy, freedom and happiness.

This life with God is a series of contradictions; each step of the way I felt like I was sacrificing so much and on the other side I see that they were just chains being broken so I know the freedom found in this true love, in this real relationship.