I Had a Good Saturday

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I had a good Saturday, thought I did not expect that it would be good at first because I have not had a good Saturday for a while.

I had a good Saturday last weekend, but it was different than today because some sadness was woven into it. I drove to Arlington on Friday to see my buddy Marianne who was in town. We ate noodles and acted goofy. And on Saturday, several roommates of my good friend Kate (me included) surprised Kate and helped her move into the studio apartment she bought in D.C., which has a view of the Capitol. The capitol reminded me of our country. (Jesus, please help us.) And D.C. reminds me of my old life that I miss and never want to return to at the same time. Today marks the fourth year since I left my job there to come here.

Today was different. I went to IHOP, which I had looked forward to because I would finally eat the blueberry pancakes with blueberry compote that I had craved since Thanksgiving but never ate because they are bad for you. And Jin Woo and I never had our IHOP excursion before Thanksgiving dinner. But I ate the pancakes today because Kristin treated me for my birthday.

I went to a line dancing function with my mom that was also a fundraiser for her grade school friend who has cancer. I watched older folk line dance with a smile on my face. I recorded them and sent Jin Woo two videos. They said they do not play the typical line dances like the Cupid Shuffle and the Wobble, so I did not join in because they were too advanced for me, and I was scared. I met Mom’s friends from long ago, who encouraged us to go to line dancing lessons. It’s only two dollars.

Mom and I left, linked arms and walked to the car. I like to escort her cause she’s old, though she isn’t really.

“Help an old lady get to the car,” she says.

Mom drove to the Chrysler Museum because she wanted to get a Norfolk-themed gift for her Texan friend, and I bought a necklace because it reminds me of spring and made me smile.

A friend called me out of the blue. She was in town and wanted to see a movie. I said no at first because I needed to work on a project, but minutes later I messaged her to correct myself.

“No, self,” I had said to myself. “Live your life. Have fun. Be spontaneous. Your friend isn’t in town often.”

At a rather late hour, we went to see La La Land, which reminded me of me and how I like to write. I wondered if my writing will ever get anywhere and get to anyone. But I write anyway because I can’t really stop writing. It’s one thing I do best, and it helps me organize the thoughts in my brain. It’s like thinking out loud but with no sound.

At midnight, I drove home, and I smiled. “I had a good Saturday,” I told myself as I drove down I-64 a little too fast. I had the feeling that more good Saturdays would come, just like the Lord said they would.

“Things will start to change for the better,” He said some time ago.

I believed Him then, but I think it’s happening now.

 

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The Lure of Conservatism: How We Compromised Our Values and Our Voice

Dear Church in America,

… Although the 2016 presidential election is the central event of this letter, I am not talking about politics. Rather, I speak directly to the Church and address how evangelical Christians’ conservative voting trends have misrepresented the Gospel. What the election has revealed should cause us to weep and repent. …

Source: The Lure of Conservatism: How We Compromised Our Values and Our Voice

The Lure of Conservatism: How We Compromised Our Values and Our Voice

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Dear Church in America,

This letter is part one of three.

I thought about writing this letter long before I began scribbling it down during church on Sunday. Then, I spent just as much time shuffling paragraphs and rewording sentences as I did thinking about this letter. I hope the time I spent crafting this letter reflects the level of thought and concern I have put into this message.

Although the 2016 presidential election is the central event of this letter, I am not talking about politics. Rather, I speak directly to the Church and address how evangelical Christians’ conservative voting trends have misrepresented the Gospel. What the election has revealed should cause us to weep and repent.

I cried after the election, which surprised me. There were several reasons for my tears, but I will only focus on one. Christians did what I feared we would do: in large numbers, we sacrificed our values by supporting, many of us openly and enthusiastically, a presidential candidate whose actions and words represent the exact opposite of love, which is the epitome of the Gospel.

I expected many of us to vote for Donald Trump because the Republican ticket shelters views about abortion and marriage that are upheld by the Bible. I also knew that many of us would overlook the qualities that make Donald Trump a poor presidential candidate, such as his inability to control his words and tweets (James 3:1-12), and sheer lack of political experience. I knew we would overlook the threat he is to women, people of color, immigrants (particularly those from Mexico and majority Muslim nations), Jewish people, and the disabled. If Donald Trump overtly does and says the exact opposite of the Gospel, how can we believe that he genuinely supports the conservative values he advertised?

I did not expect for evangelical Christians to vote for him in mass. Or, perhaps I knew this, and I was to afraid to face the reality that even though a particular evil that we have not encountered in our recent memory clearly voiced its views from national stages,  we chose to befriend it because it promised a conservative Supreme Court justice, the potential reversal of Roe v. Wade, and a return to the biblical foundations of marriage. Unfortunately, evil does not support biblical truths but only attracts us with a facade of agreeable promises, and we align accordingly. Once we align, we cannot turn back.

Isaiah 5:20 cautions against following evil that is masked as good. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Scripture also states that even the elect will be deceived (Matthew 24:24). Have we been deceived? I believe many of us were.

When the outside world reads that 80 percent  (4/5) of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump, they are confused. They wonder how Christians could sacrifice their values to support their values by voting for a candidate who is such a radical departure from the basics of the Christian faith, and whose words and actions are a direct assault on the gender, phenotype, and nationality of fellow church goers and the people Christians are called to serve.

From the outside, they see a Church that latched on to the promise of conservative Supreme Court justices, a reversal of Roe v. Wade, and a return to a biblical basis for marriage by sacrificing their brothers and sisters in Christ who are people of color, immigrants, Jewish, women, and/or disabled. When our observers integrate other factors into the mix, such as his peculiar and largely unknown relationship with Vladimir Putin, lack of experience, and a history of unsavory marriages, they wonder if we have a selective Gospel. When examining his life, his words, and his actions, Donald Trump does not support life or family, and he does not reflect Christ or the values we uphold.

It is likely that I would not write this letter if Donald Trump was a typical presidential candidate who followed the unspoken protocol that we are familiar with that maintains some level of peace: don’t insult people of color, eliminate extremist views from your words and your tweets, don’t openly state or even imply that you have friendly ties with Vladimir Putin, don’t harass women, and hide your dirt. Because Donald Trump is such an extreme departure from the norm, we should have stopped and asked the Lord about the consequences of voting for Donald Trump before we did.

Because our observers know that we are contributors, we cannot redeem ourselves by stating that we had no way of knowing how he would lead the country when his actions and words offend our values. In reality, he never hid his character from us, and he has begun to do what he clearly promised he would do.

Therefore, we have compromised our voice of wisdom in the chaotic remains of a tumultuous election, and the unprecedented protests and immigrant restrictions that followed. We voted for our rights as Christians that were advocated by a candidate who obviously is not for Christ. What an epic trade we have made: we have trusted the untrustworthy to support our beliefs rather than flee from evil.

We can redeem our values and our message of Christ’s ability to restore where there is disorder and strife, but this reclamation requires several things: repentance to God for misrepresenting Him and a trade of our party loyalties that have failed us for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then, each of us must pray and ask the Lord what He would have us say and do during these times–even if those words and actions cause our friends, families, and fellow church members to ridicule us. Once we are confident we have heard Him, we must move forward in strength and courage (Jeremiah 1), come what may.

– Rachel

Racism in America: The Wound that Festers

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The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the Charleston, SC shooting occurred.

I wrote this response months ago, but I was afraid to post it because it would mark the beginning of publicly sharing my opinion about serious issues our country faces. I wasn’t ready for feedback.

This post pulls from my  experiences, so I must provide context. As a black American with light skin, I encounter forms of racism that black people with dark skin may not; their experiences are sometimes different than my own. I have also experienced racism from both the white and black communities. This piece is not an attack on a particular group. Rather, it is a clarion call to the Church in America, “We have issues with each other! Let’s humbly resolve them. Do not wait because the time is now.”

Racism is a wound that festers. I sense this when I  mention racism or something related to “being black” or “being white” to a friend, and his or her body language, a brief sentence, or the silence that follows shuts down the conversation. My friends are not rude when they signal that they do not want to engage in the topic, nor am I aggressive or political in my comments.

Our friendship continued, but I must admit that I always felt more tense than I did previously because I knew that the colors of our skin and our worldviews had tapped into a tension that we didn’t know how to resolve because our notions of each other are rooted in our cultures and our upbringings.

After interactions like the ones described above, I am often discouraged. One of my favorite aspects of America is its diversity, so when I encounter racism or a fear of the subject, I realize there is so much work to be done. When I state that there is much “work to be done,” I am not addressing government policies designed to foster equality. Rather, I refer to a change within our hearts and minds about people who are different than ourselves, which can only be achieved through the Holy Spirit and a thorough, critical evaluation of what we think about people who are different.

It is not enough to dismiss this challenge to self-evaluate simply because we are certain that we are not prejudice because of [insert reason]. We must sincerely be reflective and critical of our thoughts toward others, our upbringings, and our interactions with people outside our racial and ethnic groups in order to tackle the work that needs to be done in our communities. Then, we must be willing to listen to the petitions and hurt of the minority groups in America without rebuttal or dismissal because we assume that the progress within government systems suggest that government policies have erased the struggles from the 1960s and earlier.

Though difficult, I know this is possible because I have witnessed the Holy Spirit work in my friendships. I’ll share one of these experiences. About five years ago, a friend visibly tensed up when I mentioned race. I cannot remember what I said, but I do remember that my statement was benign. I dropped the subject and never talked about race again. My friend moved across the country a few years later, and we kept in touch. One day, we had a long phone conversation, and out of the blue, she started talking about a revelation she had about race.

My friend apologized to me on behalf of white Christians for the way black people have been ignored and marginalized in the United States. She talked about slavery, how terrible it was, and how she did not realize how rooted it is into American culture and social structures. I cannot remember everything my friend said, but I remember that I almost cried. I felt like I did not deserve the apology because what I have experienced is nothing compared with what older generations have endured.

I asked how she came to these conclusions, and my friend stated that the Holy Spirit revealed them to her. I was shocked. I felt relieved, lighter, and hopeful because she confirmed that my experiences with racism in America and the racism that my friends and family have  experienced are valid. My concerns are not a result of being hyper-aware of it or imagining that racism is occurring when it actually is not, but rather, it is a daily reality that must be navigated in our homes, churches, places of employment, and public spaces.

She confirmed that those times I was called a “mutt” or an “oreo,” and was told I “don’t talk or act black,” “am so light-skinned that I must not be black,” “am different than other blacks,” and “will only ever been seen as a little black girl” were manifestations of racism and/or prejudice and stereotypes. In fact, those comments were just plain mean and an unawareness of the range of diversity within the black community itself.

She also confirmed that there is a lot of work to be done regarding the reformation of the individual. Racism lurks in the corners of our hearts and minds, and it manifests when we awkwardly bump into into people who are different than us or encounter the ugly moments in our nation’s history.

The reality of the evil America has committed against racial and ethnic minorities can only be healed if each of us, no matter our color or creed, sincerely evaluates ourselves. 

This is my statement for the American Church: we must hear the cries of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have deep wounds that are a result of racial and ethnic abuse and discrimination in America. These wounds are both generational and current. Much like the repercussions of divorce, fatherlessness, physical and sexual abuse, and other forms of trauma that are never dealt with, racism extends through generations. If it is not dealt with, the wounds will never heal because each political outburst or violent interaction between police and civilians will only cause these wounds to fester and spread an unstoppable infection throughout our nation that will destroy our relationships and make the Church ineffective.

I am not saying that we must inherit the guilt of the past. However, we do bare the responsibility of acknowledging that we have inherited oppressive foundations established by those who came before us and become guilty if we continue to perpetuate the racism and prejudice that is ingrained in our history and our culture by engaging in it or ignoring it. This responsibility belongs to all of us, regardless of our color.

America and the Second Great Divorce

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My Dear America,

President Abraham Lincoln predicted America’s first divorce before it became official. President Lincoln knew that a great crisis would come, but he also believed that the Confederacy and the Union would unite again when the trial had passed:

In my opinion, it [slavery] will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new, North as well as South.

Surely, I am not the only American who recalls President Lincoln’s “A House Divided” speech when she observes the present state of our Union. It is obvious that we are divided. And given the chaos that erupted during the election season and the protests that followed the inauguration, it is clear that these are the birth pains that precede the unpredictable crisis that will split us. It is not necessarily the seemingly inevitable split that scares me. Rather, it is the mystery of the lines along which we will split and the fear that we will not get back together.

I worry that we will not remarry because times have changed and our Union has become more complex. America is far more racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse than the United States that President Lincoln led, and the ideologies that divide us today are not as few as states rights and slavery. We also navigate the added complication of technology that relocates war from the farmlands and countryside of America to the strangely invisible yet accessible battlegrounds of social media and twenty-four-seven news coverage. It is on these battlegrounds that the lines that divide us emerge. These lines are called but not limited to terrorism, immigration, abortion, gun control, racism, and sexuality.

I think there are additional, and perhaps more critical, lines that divide us, but they are less tangible than a weapon used at a school shooting or an immigrant’s paperwork. These lines are the malicious words and actions we direct towards people who are different from us and people who do not think the way we do. These lines are called hatred, disrespect, anger, and prejudice. Combined, they create the volatile tension that separates one man from another. That tension extends beyond the micro-relationships in our families, churches, schools, and jobs to the very top of our government and from one end of the country to the other.

Simply stated, we do not know how to be kind and choose not to be kind. That extreme lack of kindness has become so severe that our country is having trouble functioning at personal, local, state, and national levels.

There is a large map of the United States that I hung above my desk at home. I put it there almost three years ago with the intention of praying for each state and the representatives who lead it. Now, I wonder who will lead us during these times.

Where are the successors of President Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.? Where are the leaders who will speak prophetically about our nation and stand for goodness, truth, mercy, and kindness no matter the cost? The cost of adhering to Gospel truth ultimately cost President Lincoln and Dr. King their lives, but the outcome of their convictions and sacrifices were radical. I pray that leaders who want to stand up will not attempt to preserve themselves by blending into the chaos. I pray that they will arise, come what may.

Get Off Facebook and Pray

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Photo Credit: Facebook Newsroom

On Saturday, January 21, I turned on the news and saw hundreds of thousands of people marching in Washington, D.C., to protest the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. I called Mom immediately.

“Hey, girly,” she said. “I’m watching the people march. Except there’s so many people that they can’t march.”

“Is this normal?” I asked. I was pretty sure it was not normal for millions of people in major cities across the United States and the world to protest after an inauguration, but I needed confirmation.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life.”

This was not the first time someone called an event  unprecedented. In America alone, there have been many unique events in the past two decades: September 11; the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina;  the Orlando nightclub massacre; the Boston Marathon bombing; the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting; the mass shooting in San Bernardino; the peculiar and violent altercations between police and civilians; the craziness of the 2016 Presidential Election; and now, the diverse reactions to the inauguration.

As time passes, these events become consumed in a haze of chaos that becomes thicker and spreads further. They are linked with topics that we have very strong opinions about: religion, racism, gun control, sexuality, classism, abortion, immigration, and terrorism. People become angrier, more verbally aggressive, and more violent as they act out their beliefs. Strangely, we can’t remember how we got here. We ask, “What is happening to us? Why are people posting such insane opinions on the Internet?”

But, if we sit for a moment in the best form of silence we can muster in these noisy times, we will see that the past lingers, and all along our nation was quietly dividing itself for years because we never resolved our issues over gun control or racism or abortion or sexuality or terrorism when a national tragedy struck. As a result, the haze thickens, and we are stuck in a violent storm spewing violence at our neighbor about our beliefs and rights without any knowledge of how to end the storm. We only make it worse.

Some of the worst storms are on Facebook, where I spent far too much time reading reactions to the inauguration. I could hardly believe the awful things people I know wrote about black people, white people, people who support abortion, people who don’t support abortion, people who supported Hillary Clinton, people who support Donald Trump, people who marginalize women, and all the other issues that are far too numerous to mention here. The most tragic news is that many Christians sounded just like everyone else, and their voices were lost in the storm.

I remember James 3:5-12, which clearly tells us to watch our mouths, to be quiet, and to speak in a manner that brings peace and wisdom rather than contribute to chaos:

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

It is natural to have opinions about what’s happening in America, but rashly broadcasting those opinions is not the first thing we should do. Rather, we should stop and pray, asking the Lord, “How do you want me to respond? I know there is a specific role for me in these times. What do I do?”

When the Lord answers, we are free to speak or act, confident that our response aligns with the Lord’s mission for these chaotic and unpredictable times. Until then, we need to be quiet because we’re only contributing to the evil that’s brewing and are quickly losing our ability to speak into the haze and help unite our country.

The 2016 Election Season in Two Words: “Jesus, help!”

american-flagWhen circumstances beyond my control mount, I say, “Jesus, help!” My friend prays this handy prayer, and I, too, have come to rely on these words when language falls short. During the election season, I prayed this prayer far more than I did before.

On Election Day, I was excited to vote. I pictured millions of Americans waiting in long lines. The thought made me feel connected to citizens living thousands of miles away. I smiled to myself.

Though I was excited, I was anxious. “Jesus, help!” I prayed. “Jesus, please keep us safe at the polls. Let the rumors of terrorism be rumors. Bring wisdom as my countrymen cast their votes at the local, state and national levels.”

As I stood in line at my polling station, I prayed again. “Jesus, help! I love my country, but I am scared. What’s going to happen to us? Forgive us for our sins! Please don’t leave us!” I thought about the gravity of the election and listened to strangers talk among themselves. The line crept forward until I reached the voting area. I was nervous. Voting meant the campaign season was officially over. What would happen tonight? The next day? I was not confident my countrymen, the world, and I were ready.

I handed a polling officer my driver’s license. He waved me forward, and I stood near another polling officer who impatiently told me it was my turn. “If you see an open booth, move up.”

Outside of prayer, my main role in two years of a volatile campaigning would conclude in a moment. I walked to a voting booth and inserted my voting card. I checked boxes for the president, local officials, and amendments to the Virginia Constitution. “Jesus, help!” I prayed to myself. “These are the best selections I know to make. I can do no more. Help, please!”

I continued to pray these two words as I sat at my desk on Tuesday afternoon. As I answered emails and worked on projects, my mind wandered through the different time zones. I thought of the voters living in those regions and of the people waiting in line. I thought of the people who chose not to vote. “Jesus, help!”

That night as the votes were counted and reporters analyzed, predicted, and announced results the way sports anchors recount once-in-a-lifetime games like the one between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, I prayed, “Jesus, help!” I knew that no matter who I voted for and no matter who our nation chose to represent us to the world, only Jesus could help. Only Jesus could bring peace and restoration and hope where there are none. Only Jesus could restore the division that seems to be present in nearly every corner of America.

I didn’t stay up until the early hours of Wednesday morning to see the outcome; I went to sleep because I quickly grew tired of obsessing over something I could not control. I woke up far earlier than I normally do and immediately checked my phone. I had a record number of news notifications from every major news outlet.

“Jesus, help!” I prayed. I sat on the edge of my bed and prayed for our country. Then, I got ready to go to early morning prayer at my church.

Since Wednesday, I continue to pray this short prayer because I do not know what else to pray. When I am confused, I pray. When I worry, I pray. When I cannot believe what I read and hear, I pray. When I feel myself get sucked into the black hole that is social media and the news, I pray and turn the news off.

The aftermath of the election that reverberates throughout our country indicates that we will experience some changes that we did not expect in the coming months and years. I imagine that many of these events (whatever they may be) will test our faith. But one thing that will not change is the faithful prayer I learned from my friend: “Jesus, help!” No matter what people say, what the media reports, and which choices are made, these are the words in which I trust.