“To Stop Whiteness from Trembling”

nbvwcHaPharaoh trembled at the growing Hebrew population; at the thought that these slaves might realize their oppression and realize their power. He demanded that the Egyptians throw all of the Hebrew baby boys into the Nile River.

Herod trembled at the report from the eastern scholars of a child who had been born King of the Jews; at the prospect of Jewish rebellion and an end to his tenuous hold on power. He ordered the slaughter of all the children in and around Bethlehem who were under the age of two.

I’ll grant that the slaughter in our country is geared toward males past their infancy and toddlerhood, but sometimes not by much. Never by enough. Tamir Rice was only twelve. Laquan McDonald, seventeen. Freddy Gray, twenty-five. Philando Castile, thirty-two. Alton Sterling, thirty-seven.

Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon connects the recent killings of Sterling and Castille to the fear that is illustrated in the Pharaoh narrative. She reminds us that “the State is still armed, and murder represents a justifiable response to stop whiteness from trembling.” The fear and slaughter to which we have borne witness this past week are not new.

And neither is the resistance. Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives, refused to carry out Pharaoh’s orders to kill the male babies they helped birth. The wise men from the east went home by another way, disobeying Herod’s orders to return to him and identify the Christ child.

Diamond Reynolds live-streamed the scene with police as her boyfriend sat shot and dying beside her. Members of Stop the Killing, Inc., monitored police scanners and showed up at the Triple S Food Mart in time to film the encounter between Alton Sterling and police.

People across the country are protesting and praying, analyzing and admonishing. We are pushing for reforms in gun laws and police departments and justice systems. We are fighting against the fear we see in others and the fear we sense in ourselves.

When we resist, we join the heartbreaking company of Shiphrah and Puah, of the mysterious men from the east.

We join the company of those, like the midwives, who must watch the trembling powers terrorize innocent people despite our best efforts to thwart the destruction.

We join the company of those, like the magi, who listen to our dreams from God and follow the path God gives us, but somehow still find ourselves part of the horror.

We join the company of the Hebrew mothers of Egypt, the Jewish mothers of Bethlehem, who wail and weep and wait for the slaughter to stop.

Thoughts on a Tragedy

watching-a-rainbow-1405323I struggle to know how to respond in the wake of the shooting at Pulse Nightclub. Fifty dead. Over forty hospitalized. Hundreds traumatized. Guns, again. A tragedy followed by anti-Muslim rhetoric, again. Beautiful queer bodies targeted for violence, again.

I feel grief. And horror. And despair. And anger.

I feel helpless. I feel like I should do something. But then all I do is turn up the radio to hear the latest update. Click on the article links where the words blur together—Orlando, dead, gunman, mass shooting, FBI—and the grief-stricken faces come into sharp focus.

I sit and listen. I sit and look. I sit and wonder what the hell is wrong with us and what I can possibly do in the midst of the mess.

I commend my colleagues who are organizing and attending vigils. I see them posting invitations on Facebook. I imagine them sending emails and making phone calls and gathering candles and writing prayers.

I have not managed anything so energetic. I lit our peace lamp at church yesterday. I am trying to get some words onto this page so they stop ricocheting around in my head. I join my prayers with the millions ascending.

It doesn’t feel like much.

Tonight I will do what I’ve been planning to do for months: I will help out with Vacation Bible School. At first, that didn’t feel like much either. The thought of beach balls and cheesy songs and skits featuring a crab puppet seemed like a frivolity I could hardly manage in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, yet another attack on LGBTQ people.

Then I read this beautiful, challenging article by my friend Jay Yoder. And I saw my friend Stephanie Krehbiel’s Facebook post: “Homophobia in Islam and homophobia in Christianity is the same damn homophobia.”

And I’m starting to think that maybe helping with Vacation Bible School is the best possible response to the shooting. This week I have a chance to teach children that faith never means hate; that God created them and loves them just as they are; that every person they meet is worthy of their care and respect; that violence is never a good path.

This week I have a chance to counter any voices these children might have heard that suggest to them that the Bible and/or God and/or Jesus wants them to judge and hate people for who they are or how they dress or who they love. And I have a chance to do it while wearing a fabulous foam sun visor with sea animal stickers on it.

I think I’ll add a rainbow to my visor and dedicate every corny song, every silly dance, every messy craft project, every word of hope and love and life this week to the victims and survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

How Not to Apologize

file2181285550868A recent Facebook apology from my teenage son: “I’m sorry but I have nothing to do with that.”

And Trump’s apology for posting an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz: “If I had it to do again, I probably wouldn’t have sent it. I didn’t think it was particularly bad, but I probably wouldn’t have sent it.”

And an apology from the moderator and executive director of my denomination: “We apologize to . . . anyone . . . who may have gotten the impression that Executive Board leaders were not fully committed to justice and healing for victims [of sexual abuse].”

I’ve always thought that apologizing was a pretty simple task, one we learn at a young age: “Joanna, tell the dog you’re sorry for dragging him around the house in a pillow case.” “I’m sorry, Fluffy.”

That’s it. That’s an apology. Pretty straight forward. But apparently beyond the grasp of many people.

So, as a public service, here are ten ways to tell that your apology is not really an apology:

  1. The word “but” comes after the word “sorry.”
  2. The words “that you” come after the word “sorry.”
  3. Really, if anything but a period comes after the word “sorry,” you’re likely not apologizing.
  4. You list excuses for your pitiful actions.
  5. You use the passive voice. (“It is regrettable that mistakes were made.”–Not a real apology.)
  6. You claim that the person you are apologizing to is partly (if not completely) to blame for the horrible thing you did to them.
  7. You use words like “seem” and “probably” and “appeared” and “might” and . . . you get the idea.
  8. You mutter your apology to the ground while your mom stands by, glaring at you with her arms crossed.
  9. You pretend that your position of power and privilege makes you less responsible for your actions because it’s so difficult and complicated for someone in your position to negotiate all of their responsibilities—rather than acknowledging that it is exactly your power and privilege that make you that much more responsible for the damage you have caused and the damage you have failed to prevent.
  10. You have apologized for the same damn thing over and over and over again without actually changing your behavior in the slightest.

If you are having trouble crafting a sincere apology, I offer you this template from my younger self. You will need to replace the bracketed words to fit your own situation:

Dear [Fluffy]. I am truly sorry that [I put you in a pillowcase and pulled you around the house]. I am sure you did not like that and I should not have done it. Next time I will [put my stuffed dog in the pillow case] instead and give you a [dog bone].

You’re welcome.

Random Thoughts on Turning 41

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Showing off my gray hair. It’s there. I promise.

I’m irritated that all of the temporary hair color says it will “cover the gray.” I’m proud of my gray hair. I’ve earned it. And as a diminutive female, gray hair can only help my pastoral gravitas. Still, I’d love to be a redhead for a month or so. Where is the hair color that LEAVES the gray and just colors the boring brown parts of my hair?

I’m going to eat that crappy pizza in the freezer for lunch today. (I mean, I’ll cook it first.) I know I bought it for my husband, but it’s not my fault he hasn’t eaten it yet. It’s been like three weeks. And surely there is some sort of statute of limitations on these things. And it’s my birthday. And he’s not home.

Continue reading “Random Thoughts on Turning 41”

Fear, Power, and the Non-Indictment in the Murder of Tamir Rice

Are we accountable for our fear?

This is a question that white people in particular need to consider.

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy, was shot to death on November 22, 2014. Yesterday a grand jury decided not to indict the white police officer who killed him. The primary reason given for the non-indictment is that the police officers “reasonably believed their lives were in danger.

In other words, the police officers were scared. So the shooting was acceptable.

Except a dead boy in the park is not acceptable. Tamir laying there bleeding for four minutes while the police officers stood by is not acceptable. A grieving mother being told that her son’s death is nobody’s fault–simply a “perfect storm of human error”–is not acceptable.

Continue reading “Fear, Power, and the Non-Indictment in the Murder of Tamir Rice”

How Many Candles?

455623650Sunday morning at the beginning of worship, I lit our peace lamp and then I lit four white candles: for Paris, Beirut, Aleppo, and Baghdad.

I almost skipped the candle-lighting altogether because I couldn’t figure out how many candles to light. Beirut and Paris, of course. Those were horrific terrorist attacks among people who don’t experience such things on a regular basis; places where people expect to go about their daily lives without encountering a suicide bomber or masked gunman. I definitely wanted to light candles for the 41 killed in Beirut, the 129 in Paris.

What about Aleppo and Baghdad? They had terrorist attacks last week, too. But, sadly, I barely paid attention. The words “bombing” and “attack” and “violence” and “dead” are so often heard in connection with these cities that those reports can feel more like a recurring news script than a real-life event. Still, the fact that those attacks were expected doesn’t make them any less tragic. It doesn’t make the 13 killed in Aleppo and the 26 killed in Baghdad any less dead. So Aleppo and Baghdad got candles too.

It was hard to stop with the candle-lighting.

I wanted to light a candle for the Palestinian family whose house was destroyed by the Israeli military because one of the men of the family was accused of killing an Israeli soldier.

And I wanted to light a candle for the dead Israeli soldier.

I wanted to light a candle for people in the cities of the United States killed by guns—those involved with gangs, those caught in the crossfire, those shot by police, those who are police.

I wanted to light a candle for the death-dealing racism of our culture.

I wanted to light a candle for the transgender people who are attacked physically and emotionally every day.

I wanted to light a candle for the 459 civilians killed by US airstrikes as part of our “war on terror”—especially for the 100 children.

I wanted to light candles for the tragedies we all knew would come in the wake of the Paris attacks—for the Muslims threatened and yelled at and physically assaulted; for Syrians killed as the French warplanes “pound” ISIS; for the refugees who are shut out and put down because of our misplaced fear.

I wanted to light candles for all of them. And I knew I couldn’t. We don’t have enough candles in our church cupboard. We don’t have enough time in our worship service.

It’s an odd thing, really, to light a candle in the face of death. It’s a small act. It’s almost a nothing act. Almost. But not quite. Lighting a candle is something. Which, however inadequate, is at least better than nothing.

And for me, for many of us, lighting a candle is prayer. And prayer opens our hearts and our minds to God, which means that our hearts and our minds are more open to each other. Which is something, too.

This morning my devotional reading was Matthew 1; a chapter I know well and am likely to breeze through. But this time I was caught by the angel’s words to Joseph: “You are to name [Mary’s son] Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

He will save his people from their sins.

We are all God’s people. And our sins are killing us—physically and spiritually.

In the midst of so much death–in the midst of such sorrow, such tragedy, such brokenness—it is hard to know how many candles to light. It is hard to know what prayers to pray. It is hard to know what steps to take. It is hard to believe in the promise of salvation.

But here is what grace means for me right now: One candle is enough . . . or four . . . or sixty. Any prayer will do—art, music, words, groans, silence. Even one step will get us to a new place, eventually.

And the promise is real even when we can’t believe it.