The Edge of Hope

Sometimes it feels like I am holding on to hope with my fingernails. 

And that I’m slipping. 

And that the precipice is getting sharper and sharper. 

And I’ve started to bleed.

And hurts only to grasp at the lacerating edges of hope and feel so uncertain and not know if anything I will do matters. I fear holding on too much closely because I can’t tell if hope itself is doing the harm. 

Is it hope, or optimism, or fear, and I actually can’t feel the hope.

Does hope pierce my soul and release it, instead?

Or is hope an arrow shooting through the night sky and I lost my chance to grasp it when it disappeared into the mist around me. 

Or maybe. 

Maybe hope is the thing that is hovering around me as I grasp on the edge of this existence. 

Will it catch me? Could it, even if it wanted to? 

Maybe it isn’t hope that is cutting into my hands, but my desire to hold on to at least one thing that made sense this time last year, that now is ridiculous, pointless, impossible. 

Could it be that I am harming myself by thinking that hope has anything to do with the past? 

I’m tempted to compare my existence to those around me, to say that “I don’t have it that bad because we’re ok with money and we have a home and we’ve got a reliable job in the household and a stocked pantry, and a bunch of folks don’t have that.” And when my mind does that, I feel guilty for being lonely and angry and frustrated and tired and weary. But I am those things. And we can’t see our family. And we can’t go trick-or-treating. And I don’t risk going to shop for things that are outside of the essentials because even the pharmacy team can’t figure out how to wear their masks right. 

And so, I’m left with a sliver of hope, that maybe I will get to escape this season of despair, but really not knowing how it will happen.

— — —

The last special worship service that we had in person was Ash Wednesday, where we imposed ashes on our foreheads and said “dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” And part of me has not left that space. We began our quarantine in the midst of lent, and I do not know if it will be safe for me to return to in person worship until next year’s easter, or pentecost, or will the kids actually lose a full two years of worship. 

We don’t know. We don’t know, and so I don’t know how to grasp hope any tighter, if  actually holding it tightly is causing it to diminish like water or sand in my grasp. 

Perhaps I need to cup my hands like I am drinking from a fresh spring, holding a newborn kitten, or comforting a weeping child. 

Maybe it is that I think that my hands can do the only bit of holding, and I forget that I can embrace hope like a friend or a child or a child or a parent or a lover. 

Maybe my hands are not the right place for this holding. Or not enough, at least. 

What if I gathered hope up like one of my gangly squirmy children and let it sit for a while. Or embraced it like my lover. 

What if I need to be hope’s little spoon. 

I wonder what would happen if I allowed hope to embrace me, hold me instead. 

Can I rest in hope?

I’m unsure what to actually hope for that doesn’t feel directive. I can’t predict or conform the future to my hopes, and maybe that is why hope feels so ephemeral these days. I hope that my children are safe, that the children in my community whose skin is different than my own are also safe from the hatred of the fearful around me. But I want to look with better eyes than that. I want to hope bigger than that. 

But I don’t know if my hope can do any more than that right now. 


Here is the last thing.

I hope I can still find joy. 

Cultivate joy.

Dance in, breathe in, drift in, work in, sleep in, walk in, cook in, bathe in joy.

Not happiness, mind you. Nothing as saccharine or dismissive as that. 

But joy. Embodied joy. 

Thats what I hope I still spread and share and sing and soar in, even when it keeps getting darker. 

I hope for joy. 

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.

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.

Silence of…

Have you ever noticed how many kinds of silence there are?

There is the quiet silence of joy.

There is the silence of anger, of fuming in a stroke-like gaping horror.

When my daughter gets hurt, and it’s actually more than a little bump, you can gauge the severity of the injury by how long it is before the sound of the cry begins: the longer the silence, the worse it turns out to be.

In worship there can be intentional holy silence and awkward waiting transitional silence and a silence that sits in the middle somewhere between the two.

Silence happens in the morning or night time between the quieting of the night noises and the beginning of the morning activity.

Silence comes in all times and places…

Silence at the right moment is appropriate and called for and necessary. Sometimes I wish there was more of it.

Sometimes there is too much of it. Sometimes there is the wrong kind of silence.

Silence in the midst of injustice, of someone being hurt, is dangerous. Silence can be forced.

Silence is inflicted.

When necessary voices are ignored and harm continues, it is as if there might as well be silence. And then there is too much of the news, the bad piles on top of what is worse and the horrible keeps getting multiplied by the horrifying.

We go deaf in the screaming and are engulfed in the silence that comes from being numbed to the pain around us.

Our ears ring with the echoes of all the shouts around us.

There is no peaceful silence, merely the hush in the eye of the hurricane.

I can’t turn my ears from the cries around me. I can’t turn my eyes from the news of another attack. I can’t turn my heart from the call of the broken.

I choose to look and listen and feel.

I add my voice when I can, speaking a language of confession and kindness. My words may be little better than silence. I doubt my own effort and effect on the noisome roll of news and heartache.

I take moments to attempt entering holy silence. It is one of the few things that is keeping me in strength, patience, and compassion. Holy silence grants me hope.

My hope waits expectantly for joy.

The Drama of the Justice Fountain

There is drama in the faces,
There is hope in the fountain,
There is justice in the measure of a man.
What can you hope to find in the depths of the fountain,
And how can you hope to measure the scale of what is there?
If everyone wears a mask,
How do you know what is real?
Measure the real,
and taste the water.
Sink to the depths of the fountain
As a stone,
Then rise up pure and whole.
For justice will only flourish
When the masks are removed
And everyone is washed clean
In the fountain of the light.
Come, dwell in the light and
Drink from the fountain
That showers justice over the people.

What if we could walk into the waters of a justice fountain? How would our faces be different if all the masks were revealed? How would we see each other? With more mystery, or less. I know in my heart that when we look behind and beyond the mask that we put on other’s faces, that we will be able to see more than merely the humdrum normalness of the person before us. What I hope to find in everyone is the difference that holds them together.

How can I find it?
Perhaps I need to be washed clean first.

Perhaps only then will I be able to find my own mystery, and so begin to see the mystery of others. What will it feel like to be washed clean like that? Will it hurt? I pray that I am plunged deep into that cleansing flow that will remove all traces of prejudice and hate and fear from my being.

Wash clean. Wash clear. Wash thoroughly through me so that only the light of the just shines through. Let your light dwell in me, and shine out and let others flourish in the bright light of the Fountain of Justice.