Sunday, August 13, 2017

Charlottesville Reflections

My social media feeds are filled with public outcry denouncing white supremacy and the haunting images of torch wielding marches in Virginia.



It should be.

But let's be honest, our social media solidarity does little to nothing. Me protesting the protesting of something like this doesn't end racism. It doesn't solve anything.

Now, changing the way we live? That changes the story. Protest with your life. The way you live.

The reality of this is its costly and most of us white folks are naive, oblivious, or worse, indifferent to what so many people in our country have endured and are currently enduring.

Here's 10 things we could do do if we want our life to reflect our posts and tweets (by no means exhaustive).

1. Have a coworker or neighbor or friend or classmate of color over to your house for dinner and ask them to tell you their story and how all that is happening in Virginia and with police shootings is impacting them. How do they feel? What are their fears?

2. Eat and shop at black owned locations. A friend of mine recently sent this list of 21 black owned restaurants in Columbus. Shaina and I have made it a bucket list item to visit all of them. Some are in parts of town we go to all the time. Others are in places we have made conscious or unconscious notes to not go to because they are in "the bad part of town". Regardless, we are going to each.

3. Be discipled by African-Americans. I read a lot but found that most of the authors I was reading were white men. I just recently felt the conviction that I am not being taught, empowered, educated or discipled by African-Americans or women. So I've changed that. Jo Saxton and John Perkins and Howard Thurman are three voices I've just begun to let influence me. There are many more places you could start. The important thing is that you start somewhere.

4. Engage the Foster Care System. African-Americans make up roughly 13 percent of the population and yet somehow make up 25% of the children in the foster care system. Disproportionality is a thing. And there are a ton of kids in need of safe and stable homes either for a brief time or for a long period of time. The county I live in has issued an announcement that they need 200 homes immediately for placements because of the influx in kids in the system. Kids who cycle through the foster system end up with increased likelihood of teen pregnancy, high school drop out and incarceration. The system is unstable because the people who have stability and safety in their homes are locking these kids out. It's one of the clearest things in scripture and simultaneously one of the largest areas of neglect in the church. A primary goal of providing stability and support to these foster kids is that hopefully, reunification can happen with increased stability and safety being provided by the parents. This doesn't happen all the time, but it doesn't mean it isn't worth fighting for. The main thing is show up. Show up in the lives of kids, regardless of race and say that regardless of baggage, regardless of race, regardless of everything, every kid deserves a shot at being loved and valued and finding safety and stability in their life.

5. Move. If you are like me and you have had any inkling of an awakening to the effect that economic segregation has on systemic racism, then you can't really use or leverage your voice until you relocate. Some friends of mine who are heroes in this went to a neighborhood where they were clearly the minority and went in dreaming of a 20 year plan of incarnating the good news and seek revitalization and the prosperity of that neighborhood alongside their neighbors. It's messy and you can't do it with stars in your eyes, but it feels right.

6. Repent. There is a Wendys about two miles away from our house and a Wendys about 1.5 miles away from our house. We go to the one that is further away because it is on the right side of the tracks. We do this without giving it a second thought. The church that Shaina and I started nearly 5 years go is largely homogenous. We are white. We don't represent the city we live in. We don't represent the school we gather in. My staff is white. The people who most often grace the stage of the church...the worship teams...the communicators...white. I have to at least consider that the decisions I make or don't make are not pure. One of the more powerful things I've experienced in recent months was when our church combined with 4 other churches in town for a Good Friday gathering. It was the most diverse expression of worship I have experienced and during that time a white pastor and an African-American pastor, both of whom I love and respect a ton took turns confessing their sins to each other with the church as a witness. It was holy ground and if I'm honest, I need the courage to own that racism and white privilege that fester in me both knowingly and unknowingly. We need to name the cyclical hell that we have put people of color through in this country. And we need to grieve it. I have no idea what it is like to have distrust in the police force because of things that have happened for centuries in regards to those who exist to protect. I don't know what its like to feel the need to be protected from the ones enlisted to protect. I don't know what its like to be deemed 3/5ths of a person. I can say I protest much of what has happened. But the only way this issue changes is if I protest with my life and my actions.

7. Hire the Unhirables. I love the spirit of Hot Chicken Takeover in my city. They make great chicken and hire people who are often deemed unhirable. Their website says: "It’s about our people. Beyond an amazing community of customers, HCT provides supportive jobs to men and women who need a fair chance at work. Be it homelessness, previous incarceration, or another barrier to employment, HCT employees are wildly ambitious and have set their sights on what’s next. Once hired, we support their financial stability, personal growth, and professional development with an array of benefits." Having this approach in our businesses can drastically interrupt or break the cycles of poverty, crime and incarceration. Give a man a fish and they eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and they fish for a lifetime. Fish alongside a man and you may just change the world. The latter is about relationship and partnership and mutual benefit. It tells a different narrative than the heroic haves reaching out to bestow their blessings on the have nots.

8. Acknowledge that abortion is part of the systemic racism and classism we need to address. Yes, we're stepping on all the toes today. African-American women make up about 6% of the US population and yet account for between 30 to 40% of the annual abortions. If we're going to say that Black Lives Matter, then we have to be willing to say that the disproportionality of abortion clinics in poor, often largely black communities is exploitative and unjust. I don't care where you land on the the abortion issue. You can't escape that there is something wrong with this picture.

9. Identify, support and vote capable, competent African-Americans into political offices. There have been 10 black senators out of nearly 2000 senators in our history as a country. Ten. And a few of those weren't even elected. They were appointed. It's hard to say that racism isn't a thing when the white people with all the money get elected to all the positions of power and influence and continue to make the rules that govern the land. Hard to hear the voice of a group of people if the elite white guy has control of the mic.

10. Laugh together. I know a lot of these are heavy, complicated, costly journeys to go down. Most things worth doing are costly. Most things that are right are costly. But if nothing else, find common ground where you can be silly together. It's really hard to carry a torch against someone you laugh with and genuinely enjoy.

Probably not realistic to do all of these, but what if we all picked one and let our life be a protest to the bigotry and intolerance that we've seen on shocking display?!

Live your life as a protest. If we can't lean into these things, then we'd probably be best served to shut up. The African-American community deserves better than lip service and us continuing to control the mic.

Hope this is a platform to jump off from. Which one are you feeling called to try this week?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cost of Living

Pastoring a church that has connected with a majority population of 20s and 30s has me uniquely positioned to see people experience major transitions. I do way more weddings than funerals. We have baby dedications multiple times a year. Most of my hospital visits are beginning of life things not end of life things.

And there is another transition I see a lot.

It's people moving.

I don't just mean people who relocate to other areas of the state or country because of job or education, though there is certainly a transient nature involved in 20 and 30 somethings.

I also mean people who have gotten married and moved into an apartment...who then maybe move into a home, often in a hip part of the city...who then have a baby or two and then move out of the hip part of the city and into the secure part of the city...the good school district part of the city...the bigger house part of the city...often its the suburbs.

People are seemingly always on the move.

And it is always for seemingly wise motives.

But I don't often hear people saying, "we feel like God is calling us here...to this neighborhood...to this people...to embody Good News here."

Usually I hear wise explanations rather than the God explanations. God apparently rarely (if ever) calls people of means to parts of the city inhabited with people of none. God apparently doesn't like poor people.

I'm becoming convicted that God likely isn't calling all the more educated, more influential, more white, more wealthy people all to the same suburban oases of comfort.

I think while racism is certainly alive and well, it seems as if an equally (or even more?) poisonous thing in my city is economic segregation that exists because of classism.

I can tolerate a black man who is educated and holds a steady job in the same income bracket as me and can afford to live on the same street as me.

But the poor black man? Uneducated? That's a different story.

He should work harder. He should keep a job. He should have graduated high school. He should dress better.

I'm reminded a bit of what happened to the Southern Kingdom of Judah in the Hebrew Bible. The Babylonians invaded and their strategy of eliminating their enemies was very effective. Those they didn't kill, they sorted. They took the educated, wealthy and influential in the conquered place and relocated them to their capital city in Babylon to influence and build and develop and innovate. And they left the less educated, blue collar, "non-threats" in the conquered land. They knew that this recipe would prevent uprisings and revolts.

What if the suburbs are a type of Babylon? What if those embracing the comforts and frills of the empire are in reality living in exile away from the place that God ultimately wants to work and redeem and restore and reconcile?

Not only does this type of classism leave gaping holes and leave groups of people overlooked and undervalued but we perpetuate the cycle. By going to the best school districts (where the more expensive cost of living is often found), my kids get the leg up on education. Then they get the better opportunities. They get the better jobs. They get the better chance of not starting out with massive amounts of debt. Then they get married and live in the hip part of town until "God Almighty" calls them to join the rest of their privileged fellow class members in Babylon. City schools are often deemed second class, causing people with means to avoid sending their kids there and causing great teachers to look elsewhere for jobs.

We run to Babylon and then ask why Judah is having such a difficult time. We ask why Judah is falling in disrepair.

We contribute to Judah's demise and then get ticked when our government has to come in to try and subsidize our neglect.

Classism isn't a government issue. It's a church issue.

If redemption and reconciliation and restoration are really central biblical themes and if God actually cares about poor people, then the Church more than any other institution is culpable for the pain and poverty of Judah. We have not only NOT sought to bring healing but in many instances we have helped perpetuate the cycles and systems of pain.

Don't hear what I'm not saying. Not everyone is called to this. Some people are called to be good news in Babylon. And God certainly still worked in and through the people who were in exile.

But, can we be honest though and admit that God isn't calling all the wealthy and educated people to the wealthy and educated places of our city? And that sometimes...maybe lots of times...our rationalizations of why we want to live in a place are far more about our comfort and preferences than they are about God calling us there?

Columbus is the second most economically segregated city in the country. And I confess that I have been part of the problem. I live in a mostly white, mostly middle class spot. There are streets and neighborhoods I don't go to because of the stigma there. There are train tracks we don't cross much.

If you are moving and your reasoning is schools, financial investments, safety and comparable cost of living, it may just cost you your life, making your heart numb and your compassion calloused.

If you are moving because you have had revelation from God of who you are called to, you might just get your heart back. It's not easy. But nothing that is God sized ever is.

Nehemiah led a group out of Babylon and back to Judah to participate with God in restoring her and rebuilding her.

And God is calling His Church to do the same.


Friday, June 30, 2017

A History of Numbers

10 was the number of weeks she was old when she had a heart attack.

5 was the number of days she was given to live.

90 was the number of other kids they believed ever to be diagnosed with the rare genetic disease, Generalized Arterial Calcification in Infants.

100 was the number of days she spent in the Cleveland Clinic PICU fighting for her life.

Thousands were the number of people contacting us letting us know they were praying for her healing.

3 is the number of teeth she lost as a little one from not having the strength to hold herself up as she relearned how to crawl after all the fractures throughout her body. (She just lost number 4 this past week!)

5 is the number of boxes of boost she was drinking daily because she didn't want/know how to eat food.

14 is the number of meds she was on at one time, some of them 3 times a day.

1 is the number of spinal taps they attempted to alleviate the pressure of the pseudo tumor in her head.

13 is the number of the percent of her ejection fraction (how much blood her heart was pumping out per pump). 60-70% is the number of a normal person's ejection fraction.

20 is the number of the percent of her heart that was deemed irreparably damaged (dead). And eventually this number (they predicted) would begin swallowing up the healthier portions of the heart.

Hundreds is the number of times she threw up entire feeds. In her bed. In the living room. In church. Into bowls. On the ground. Once all over my head, during a meeting for church.

1.5 million is the number (approximate) of our total medical expenses from the 100 day stay at the hospital.

2 is the number of weeks we had to go without holding her as her life lay in the balance in a hospital bed.

36:26 is the number of the chapter and verse of the most important Bible verse of her life, from the book of Ezekiel: "I will put my Spirit within you and I will make your heart of stone into a heart of flesh."

2 is the number of meds she is on now. It's also the total number of milliliters she is taking of these meds (infant doses!). She's also taking them orally for the first time.

5 is the number of trips to the buffet she took at Shoneys two nights ago. Eggs. Mac and Cheese. Donuts. Peas. Cheese. Chicken. You name it.

30 is the number of minutes she had to endure of sodium thiosulfate every day. It was hell. Made her convulsively sick.

300 is the number of weeks (2105 days...50,529 hours...3,031,784 minutes) that Chaia has had some type of IV, NG tube, or G tube intruding in her body. She has had only 10 weeks of her life without the intrusiveness of some type of tube.

0 is the number of tubes she has attached to her as of today!

6 is the number of years this little lady has been alive as July 1 is her birthday!

The days of her story as well as each of ours are numbered. Trust the Better Author to tell the Better Story.

And make today count!