Show Up, Point, Talk Gospel, and Love


Pine Ridge-1

Tombstone of Chief Red Cloud

The NAACP has just issued its first statewide travel advisory, for Missouri, my home state, saying:

“Individuals traveling in the state are advised to travel with extreme CAUTION,” the advisory warns. “Race, gender and color based crimes have a long history in Missouri.”

In the year 2017, the dozing beast of in-your-face racism has been roughly prodded awake, and the beast is starving and angry.

For over a week, I have been wallowing around in the afterglow of my road-trip vacation.  Nearly three-thousand miles, alone, just so I could rest, re-create, and take photos of our North American landscape.  It was a huge adventure, and definitely more risky than it was when I was younger, but I never lost my agency.  I never expected to lose my agency.  And believe me, I was and am, profoundly aware of how many in this country there are who do not have that same luxury.

How did we get to this place?

Have we really been here all along?

Have I really been that blind?

One of my stops was the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  For over two-thirds of my life I have wanted to go there and see the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre.  I knew it would be bad – the poverty, the isolation, the corruption – I’ve kept track enough to know – but when you’re there, and life suddenly steps out of the painting, it’s so much more.

I wanted to go and see the people who were shoved aside to make room for my people – you know, the real illegal immigrants.

I didn’t know what I could do beyond pay my respects, and so I did, but I wanted to look at and know and acknowledge for at least a moment, who was really paying my rent – who was picking up the tab on my comfortable, privileged, lifestyle.

I can move freely between states; I can visit breathtaking sites; eat in local restaurants; stay in local hotels, and know that I’m probably not going to be exploited, harassed, or abused in any way.  I take it for granted; it is how I experience my culture and my world, but what gets swept under the rug is how this American culture is built on a flimsy foundation of hatred, insecurity and the highest percentage of juvenile pettiness recorded so far.

I read a story today written by a black woman who was describing her own recent cross-country road trip.  She had her kids with her and decided to stop at a Cracker Barrel in Texas for lunch.  Well, it kind of scared the hell out of her, so she tweeted something that crossed the radar of the wrong person and it went completely south in no time. (Story here)

As I traveled, I knew that the color of my hide granted me gold card access to wherever I wanted to go.  Yes, I’m a woman; yes I’m older, and yes, there is a whole set of issues embedded in that, but for the most part I can move around unmolested.  I cannot imagine looking over my shoulder everywhere I go, terrified of who I might encounter.  I cannot imagine feeling like a moving target.  My problems are not these problems, and truth be told, I learned how to navigate my own challenges a long time ago – because I have that luxury.

It is spiraling out of control again – racism – and I am ashamed.  I am ashamed that it is members of my tribe who cause these problems, and I am ashamed that I am safe because of it.  I am ashamed of the insatiable greedy beast that my tribe has become, stealing land, stealing bodies, and ravaging souls.  I am ashamed of the blind eyes, and the propagandist narrative about bygone days when everything was “baseball, hotdogs, apple-pie, and Chevrolet.”

And I am VERY ashamed of our false nostalgia.

But I don’t have a fix for it – any of it.

I just have my voice.

I have my voice and I have my heart, and I have a seminary education that helped me see the difference between the way of Jesus, and the way of white Christian America.

Show up, point, talk gospel, and love.

Repeat.

What if I screw up?

I have.  And I will again.

I have been fed the intravenous fluids of privilege my entire life.

But it’s the only way to get through.

Show up, point, talk gospel, and love….then repeat.

 

 

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Red Flags and Tiny Yellow Flowers


Snowy Range-1-45

I didn’t plan it, but this year my vacation turned into an epic road trip that will probably keep me smiling for the rest of my life.  The only plan I made was to drive my kids back to Colorado, and then visit family in Wyoming.  The rest of the adventure was completely spontaneous; every single day experienced with no preconceived plan, or agenda – just my camera, a cooler full of bottled water, and my trusty little GPS.

After all the visiting was done, I struck out on my own, dead set on reaching the top of the nearest mountain.  It sounded so simple – only 20 miles away – but then I noticed that my GPS had projected an arrival time of 3 hours in the future.

Have you ever made up your mind so completely to do something that you fail to notice those little red flags that start popping up?  Now I’ll admit, this is not the first time I’ve done that.  I’m a boundary-pusher by nature so I’ll ignore the red flags until I can’t ignore them anymore.  And there have indeed been times when I wished I hadn’t; but more often than not, what I end up discovering is that the boundaries are actually quite a bit further out than what I had first supposed.

Well, it took almost 5 hours to make it to the top of the mountain.  After spending 2 hours on a particularly crude logging road, it abruptly stopped – blocked by fallen trees, and I had to turn around and go back.  And what was really intimidating was the complete absence of other people.  (As an aside, this is why I stick with Jeep products)  But I did make it to the top of the mountain.  After several hours of intense off-road driving, I made it.  And that kind of set the tone for the remainder of the trip.

After that, it seemed every place I went, I somehow had to earn it, but then the rewards would be huge.  I sat on top of the world, alone, the only human for miles, and while it took some pretty big risks to get there, it was the most humbling and soul-clutching experience imaginable.

On another mountaintop, 4 more hours away, I stood next to a field of snow that was surrounded by tiny little yellow flowers.  Snow, in the hot July sun, surrounded by millions of tiny little yellow flowers.  And the snow was untouched.  There was not one single foot print in that snow.  It wasn’t mandated; there were no signs saying “keep off the snow,” yet everyone who made it to that spot agreed, this snow-covered ground was sacred.  I immediately thought of Moses on the mountaintop, standing before God, who said to him, take off your sandals you fool; can’t you see you are standing on Holy ground?

As I made my way across the jagged and raw beauty of the landscape, I noticed how boundaries expanded and barriers seemed to melt in the desert heat.  Without the protective padding of civilization, one learns the cooperative ways of nature.  Atoms and cells working together to form rocks, rocks and soil working together to form ground, ground and vegetation working together to form mountains…trees protecting birds, cool holes protecting prairie dogs and rattlesnakes…

Humans are the only species to cut themselves off from the flow of life.  We seal ourselves up in cities and towns, homes and cars, creating boundaries and erecting barriers, all in an effort to forget that we are fragile creatures, leading a fragile existence.

Sometimes we have to push boundaries and climb mountains in order to remember that like the tiny little yellow flowers surrounding the snow –

we are here now;

we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,”

and it’s all Holy ground,

all the time,

everywhere.

The Grace of Dark


Universe-1

Romans 7: 14-15

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.  I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 

I have a never-ending fascination with light.  All it takes is one tiny splash of sunlight on something and I can’t stop staring at it.  If I have my camera handy, time ceases to exist as I capture whatever is being graced by the light for as long as the moment will allow.  I especially love it when I encounter a single leaf in the woods touched by a tiny ray of sunlight – I’ll often wonder, now why did that leaf get picked out of all the other leaves?

But – and this is interesting – I am only spellbound by light that is illuminating something that would otherwise be dark.  I am not in love with light for the sake of light, and more light is never better.  A sunny day can be made up of a lot of harsh glare, and in that case the light loses a significant part of its appeal.  So what this tells me is that the best light is light that is defined by darkness, and when shadow and light work together, that is the sweet spot.

We struggle to do better, and to be better people.  Yet sometimes we go dark.  Sometimes we go really, really dark; and it’s scary and perplexing.  We don’t want to do the things we’re doing, but we seem powerless to stop.  We spiral out of control, and like Paul we question, why is this happening?

For me it’s helpful to think of that single leaf in the woods receiving its very own ray of sunshine.  We don’t know why everything goes dark around us sometimes, but I do know that catching a ray of light is about the most grace-filled thing that can happen; and after all is said and done, the confusion of the darkness is worth the grace of the light.