Listening for Peace

We have a depressing drought of peace these days. I have to avoid the news before I center in the mornings or my mind is filled with woe and terror rather than peace and hope. For all the places where I’ve heard the world is not at peace, there seem to be another hundred lying under the surface where the news just hasn’t reached me yet.

For all that the world is not at peace, I don’t suffer much for it. I can spend a day off social media and have a wholly better feeling of how my world is doing. My grocery run is not interrupted because the immigration policy in the country is falling apart. My gas receipt might be a bit higher because of a flood that has devastated the fourth largest city in the nation, but that is the only way that my day to day life is affected. My children are not going to be targeted by police because their skin color is assumed to be a threat.

If I ignore what is going on, then my life is hardly affected at all.

But crying peace when there is no peace is not peace at all.

“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,

saying, ‘Peace, peace,’

when there is no peace.” Jeremiah 6:14 NRSV

Simply because I am not in crisis does not mean there is peace.

And yet I seek peace.

Not peace in the absence of a storm, but peace in the midst of the storm.

Sure, I’d like to not have to worry about how much my health insurance costs and whether or not our daughters will afford to go to college or whether or not a tornado will hit our house but I seek peace in the midst of all of it.

Sometimes peace comes when I take action. It’s one of the reasons that I have marched and stood vigil and been present to hear the voices of others who are not like me nearly a dozen times in the past year and a half.

Peace is an action that we create with our words and with our bodies. We carry peace into places that have no peace and grant peace to others, if we respond with grace and patience.

I carried peace on my wrist for a year after my 14 year old cousin, Harper, committed suicide. I needed the reminder that peace comes from God, not from external circumstances. I still carry the reminder: “and all shall be well” on my wrist, a reminder from Julian of Norwich that even when the world is crumbling around me, God speaks into the chaos.

“They treat the wound of my people

as if it were nothing:

‘All is well, all is well,’ they insist,

when in fact nothing is well.” Jeremiah 6:14 CEB

There is a world of difference between “all is well” and “all shall be well.” Everything around us is in turmoil, lives are ending, and yet that is not the end of the story. God speaks peace into a world that hungers for it, and though we are not there yet, we can see glimpses of hope around us when people show up to help others, when gifts are given without expectation of payment, and when homes are opened for those who have lost everything. Peace and hope are here, but it is hard to hear them whisper with all the other noise around us.

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Happy…

My daughter and I were watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood earlier this week, and the episode was centered around happiness. Momma Tiger taught Daniel a new song, the Happy Song. “This is my happy song, I could sing it all day long!” By the end of the episode, my daughter was singing along with the words “happy song” each time they repeated. Sometimes “song” has three syllables because the “ng” combination can be a bit tricky, but she gets it. She knows when she is happy.

I tried playing her “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and she wasn’t as in to it until she saw the Minions on the music video. She knows what Minions are. I liked the song before I ever saw a Minion movie, I was fascinated by the website that hosted the music video when it first released, a 24 hour music video of people dancing and singing to “Happy.” Its really hard not to dance and sing when I listen to this song.

I am always happier when I listen to a song that makes me want to sing along. Even if it is not a happy song in and of itself. I am driven by the emotion and compelled to join in the collective call that is created in the music. It can be a lament or a praise, a song about a break-up or falling in love, a cry of loneliness or a celebration of unity, if it is a good song, I will be singing along by the end. I don’t even have to understand the language to want to sing along; I can learn it phonetically.

There are other things that make me happy.

Blank journals always want to find their way into my possession and into my home. They hold such potential for what they could be. I have nine or ten of them waiting to be filled.

Every time I try a new recipe and change it to make it mine, I feel the satisfaction of making something worth eating. Plus, making an old favorite recipe, one that I can nearly do by rote and don’t even have to look at the recipe, brings me incredible satisfaction.

Learning or experiencing a new story or a favorite old story either through a book or movie makes me happy, especially when we have to tease out the reasons why it is a good story. Figuring out what the storyteller is trying to do when it isn’t always obvious is one of my favorite things that my husband and I do after watching a new movie.

The ocean, a lake, or any body of water bigger than a puddle bring me peace. Laughing and playing with my daughter, husband, or friends brings me joy. Playing board games (as long as they are explained well and not a few certain types) lets me work my creative strategic analytical mind and still have fun with it.

I’m realizing now why so many happy things I read are made up of lists, because I am tempted to keep on listing things that make me happy… but I find joy and happiness in a bunch of different places, sometimes I just have to know where to look.

Love is what you do and what you say

Today is my Grandmomma Janet’s birthday. I’ve had three grandmothers, each very different. Now, only one is still living, Grammy Sara down in Florida. The third was the first one we lost, Sue-Sue. Each of my grandmothers had their own special name. They had their own special way of being. They have their own special impact on my life.

Grandmomma Janet loved to share love with people. She went out of her way to care for others. She set up crafts for the shut-in ministry at her church, she made pear preserves every single year that she could, she hosted our family for Thanksgivings and Christmases and Easters when we lived close enough. I learned table etiquette from her influence. (You cannot eat your dessert until the person serving everyone has been able to sit down and eat their first bite.) I learned that love is just as important by what you do as what you say. She was an artist, though she never quite claimed it. She loved daffodils.

Daffodils
Dancing in the wind

 

My grandmother looms larger than my grandfather, though I have memories of him as well. Granddaddy Norris still loves to work with his hands and build things out of wood. He loves cookies of all shapes and sizes. He always fell asleep while we were watching TV, unless he was watching Jeopardy, because he had to make sure they got the answers and the questions right. He loved to travel with Grandmomma Janet, they made sure that they took each of their grandchildren on at least one trip with them, to share that love.

Memories are funny things. We remember people from different times in our lives, and from different times in theirs. We put the memories together to build the composite of who we loved and who we remember. Some memories fade and some become crystalline, clearer with each year that goes by. It is important to forgive hurts and angry words, but it is also important to remember that the people we love and look up to are as imperfect as we are. Remembering loved ones as whole persons allows us to have grace for the people in our lives now. Norris and Janet at Wedding

Spinning

I faintly recall our house in Reidsville, and I know that the house in Greensboro had blue shag carpet in my bedroom, and that my sister and I “redecorated” the bed, her doll, and a few books while we were still there. I remember learning how hot things got cold and cold things got hot when they were left at room temperature… I couldn’t understand why my pear didn’t stay cold. But my first true memory is of a very particular merry-go-round.

The Merry-Go-Round is my favorite playground element. I like the swing, it is a very close second, but the merry-go-round? You spin faster and faster and faster and give yourself over to the force pulling you against the bar, never quite sure if you might spin off or stay until the next push. It has been years since I’ve been on one, but some of the same feeling comes when I go Contra Dancing, the same spin and release of control to someone else.

As a child, I always wanted to do the merry-go-round first. After church one morning, we went to go visit one of the mission communities in Columbus, Georgia where my father would eventually serve, Open Door. And I saw it. In the back there was a playground and I saw my prize: the merry-go-round.

Like a smart child who has learned the ways of the world, I knew that the quickest way to get from one point to another was in a straight line. Even if there was grass that was kinda tall, and there was an obvious path out of the way, I went straight to where I wanted to go.

I didn’t make it.

Stinging started.

I looked down, and my legs, in their lovely white tights (that I hated, by the way), were crawling with stinging things.

My seven year old self freaked out.

I thought that I had been attacked by a swarm of bees. I did not like bees. I did not want to be covered with them. But I was covered with stinging horribleness.

I don’t know how my mother got me to calm down enough to realize that I was not, in fact, being stung by a swarm of bees, instead I had run straight into a briar patch of sand spurs.

After I calmed down enough to sit, my mother and the children around me began to pick the stingers off of my tights at least enough to get me to take the tights off. There were too many stingers to get them all off a seven year old’s squirming legs.

I distinctly remember the kindness of the children around me and I distinctly remember that they were all black.

My first true memory, with a beginning, middle, and end is of children like me and yet with a different skin color than me.

I did end up getting to play on that merry-go-round, with those children.

I don’t know if I ever learned their names.

I don’t remember if I ever played with them again, though I don’t think so.

I’d love to say that I was always as kind to other children as they were to me, but I know that is not true.

I know that I learned that caring for someone is not based on their skin color.

I know that sometimes the path might not be the most direct route, but that the people who are part of the community know the dangers that formed the safest way to journey together.

And I know that playing together and working together is better than trying to push a merry-go-round all by yourself. If you take turns as the rider and the spinner, everyone has more fun.

Which H Is Appropriate?

I had a migraine yesterday. I realized in the afternoon that I had been livid for the previous seventy-two hours creating the perfect setting for my body to revolt against my constant horrified scanning of Twitter and Facebook.

Livid is not strong enough a word. I wish there were a stronger word. Perhaps fuming or furious, incensed or outraged. I kept waiting for my anger to dwindle, and I kept learning more things that continued to stoke the flames of my rage.

Like I said, my body shut down. I cannot maintain that level of fury for that long.

I am still angry. But I have gone back to the baseline anger that has accompanied me since November 8, 2016 when I realized that the balance had not shifted as far as I had imagined, and that hate would continue to beat out hope. We are not the country I wish we were.

Demons continue to haunt us and tell us that we are only good enough if we can point to a group of people that is not as good as we are.

I hate being part of a “We” especially when the “Them” is unspoken. It is far too easy to label people when the labels are assumed.

So I’ll name it.

I am a white, millennial, Christian, straight, cis-gendered, married, southern woman living in rural North Carolina. (I’m also a mother of one, expecting a second, and currently my husband is the only one who earns money and works outside the home.) I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket, I’ve never had a negative encounter with the police, I’ve earned a master’s degree from a prestigious university, and my family holds no debt. My family has been in the United States for over five generations. Both of my parents earned master’s degrees. I have multiple medical doctors in my family, at least two family members own their own business, and most of my family owns their own home.

I benefit from each and every one of these privileges. (The only thing I’d need to be more privileged is to be a man… and I wasn’t born that way; trans men don’t have the same kind of privilege.)

I benefit from a system where my faith and skin color mean that I am part of the assumed “Norm” of the country. I benefit from a racist system of power.

Hundreds of people have written far more brilliantly about racism than I will ever be able to do, but it is impossible to read everything in the world. I am going to exceedingly oversimplify the issue here, but there are two basic forms of racism: personal and systemic.

Personal racism means that as a white person it is when I have a conversation with a black or brown person and say or think that they are lesser than me because of our different skin color. It is far too easy for me to deny this kind of racism. Look, I don’t do this, I’m not a racist. This can also be called prejudice: a judgement based on a difference between a self-identified people group and one that is different than the self.

Systemic racism is harder to define because it is so pervasive. It involves housing segregation, disparity in sentencing for crimes and prison populations, education access, home ownership discrepancy, poverty and unemployment levels, and a thousand other injustices.

They manifest in myriad ways, but these are the two forms.

It is because of systemic racism that I am a racist. I hold more power because I have white skin. I can’t just say that I don’t have this power. I do.

Racism directly refers to the group or person who holds the power. Those who do not hold the power are not racist. Black people are not racist. They don’t hold the power in this country. They may be prejudiced against others, but they are not racist.

So, why should I be angry? I benefit from the way that the country distributes power. True.

But I was baptized into the Church and I vowed: to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of my sin; to accept the freedom and power God gives me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves; and to confess Jesus Christ as my Savior, put my whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as my Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

Racism is the original sin of our nation and I have to fight it or risk betraying everything I promise in my baptismal vows.

And then I started hearing the news on Saturday. I saw that there were a group of White Supremacists flying Nazi flags and carrying tiki torches and confederate flags and shouting that they needed their land back. I heard that a domestic terrorist drove his car into a crowd of people who were protesting the gathering of White Supremacists and killed a woman.

And my heart broke again. And then I got mad.

And on Sunday I was driving to a vigil honoring her life and reclaiming the power of light in the darkness and as I drive to get on the interstate at my exit I see a newly erected flag pole with a brand new flag flying from it. I’m fairly certain it was erected this past weekend. It was a confederate flag.

img_5210It’s still there.

And I know, I live in the rural south, and I know that there are a lot of people who want to claim that flying the confederate flag is about the southern heritage and not about racism or wishing white people could still own black people as enslaved persons and claim their property. And I know that a lot of people who want to fly the confederate flag say that the civil war was fought over economic freedom and state’s rights, not slavery. Oh, and there were racists in the north, too.

But the confederate flag is a symbol that the KKK reclaimed during the Jim Crow era, after the experiment of  reconstruction had failed, and the confederate flag is a powerful symbol. Yes, it may be a symbol of heritage, but it is a symbol of our heritage of hatred. Shane Claiborne wrote eloquently about his struggle with the flag two years ago for Red Letter Christians.

The confederate flag belongs in a museum, with an explanation that it was the banner flag of the southern states in the Civil War, when good men died on both sides, but after the north won, it was no longer legal to count persons as property.

(And yes, I am aware that the history is muddy, and that some places that were not yet part of the United States of America were slow to catch up with justice.)

By all means, we should keep the flag and with it the confederate statues that were erected during the Jim Crow era reminding every single black person that they were still “not as good” as any of the white people around them. But it all belongs in a museum of hatred.

We should not forget our history. But we should never celebrate the hatred of our past. We must confess it and work to remedy the harm that our systemic hatred continues to inflict on our neighbors.

Part of the remedy work is confessing our own blind spots and privilege.

Part of the remedy work is listening to people who don’t look like us.

Part of the remedy work is me listening to you if you disagree with me. (Honestly, call me and we’ll talk.)

Part of the remedy work is learning about the Black Lives Matter movement and why it is necessary. (And why All Lives Matter twists the issue away from the fact that black bodies are killed at an alarming rate by law enforcement with little to no redress whatsoever.)

Part of the remedy work is educating yourself and looking to multiple sources, not always ones that agree with you.

Part of the remedy work is showing up.

Part of the remedy work is humility.

Part of my remedy work is knowing when I need to be angry and learning when I need to take a break before I get a migraine.

Part of my remedy work is taking time to show my daughter what love means. And when she is older, I will teach her that she holds privilege simply because of the color of her skin, but that she should do everything in her power to help me tear down that system of privilege.

It is not simple work. It is not easy work. It is necessary work.