My Journey

Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

Saturday, August 8, 2020

A fuller version of Lamenting

New CMS Lent campaign urges churches to focus on lament - Inspire ...
Photo from Inspire Magazine


I want to grow into a fuller version of lamenting.

In his book Soong-Chang Rah refers to some research done by Glenn Pemberton.  Rah notes that while lament constitutes 40% of the Psalms, less than 20% of any of the church hymnals contain songs of lament, and even less of the contemporary worship songs popular in churches across America today. Rah goes on to explain how most of the White American churches are "concerned with questions of proper management and joyous celebration".   Rah quotes Walter Breggemann and flat out says "The well-off do not expect their faith to begin in a cry, but rather with a song. They do not expect or need intrusion, but they rejoice in stability [and the] durability of a world and social order that have been beneficial to them".

Rah goes on to explain that a theology that only consists of celebration and doesn't include suffering is not complete.  He speaks of how lament and praise must go hand in hand.

Since I was a young teen I've always felt called to work to help people.  My jobs have primarily had me work with people who are developmentally disabled or mentally ill.  I'm consistently drawn to people on the fringes.  As far back as I can remember I've cried whenever I see people in pain, see a movie where people are ill treated, or read about people being treated bad. I actually have to turn away when there's violence in movies and someone's getting hurt - I can't watch it.  I can't handle boxing or any kind of contact sport  where someone's getting hurt right in front of me. I can't drive by an ambulance without beginning to pray for the people who are going to be served by it.  Sometimes I've been a bit embarrassed about the crying.  At one point I even wondered if I had some kind of repressed memories that caused me to almost take on the emotions of those being hurt.  I sometimes feel like I am kind of a downer in a world of have-it-togethers and maybe I'm missing out on something because of it. Recently I've come to realize that this has absolutely nothing to do with me doing anything - it's just the way I'm wired. 

Because of how I'm wired, in some ways lamenting is a bit natural for me.  

However, I seek to embrace a fuller version of lamenting.  I appreciate Hill's word of explanation that when we lament we "posture ourselves before God to wail, cry and mourn. To lament is to acknowledge the pain that we aren't home and this world is too often marked by evil and injustice. To lament is to ask God the haunting questions 'Where are  you? What are you doing? How long must we wait?' " "a lament is truly asking, seeking, and knocking to understand the heart of God. A lament involves the energy to search, not shut down the quest for truth. It is the passion to ask, rather than rant and rave with already reached conclusions. A lament uses the language of pain, anger, and confusion and moves toward God."

As I ponder this I'm struck with the thought that lamenting should lead me to a deep level realization of my insufficiency and cause me to cling to God.  Then God can provide the answers about what to do.  The older I get the more I realize that some things just can't be fixed. This doesn't mean that I give up.  It means that I will continue to seek to do what God wants me to - and sometimes He supernaturally does stuff - but sometimes He doesn't and things still remain broken (it's the old Humpty Dumpty thing).  I choose to live my life grateful for when God does bless and change things and mindful of the fact that He's God and I'm not when He doesn't.

I want to learn how to Lament

I want to learn about lamenting and learn how to lament.  I want to start lamenting.

Max Richter - A Lamenting Song - YouTube
Photo taken from Max Richter A Lamenting Song

As I was reading today my attention was totally snagged by a story that Hill related; the guy in the story could have been me, what he said echoed the exact words of my heart.  

Hill shared an account of a time when he was at a 2-day retreat with leaders around the country who were involved with the work of justice.  He explained about a time at that retreat when some experiences were shared by some leaders of color. These leaders had gone to work in all-white organizations specifically  to provide direction for greater levels of diversity and equity.  The leaders related how they had found that their experiences in their places of employment were as racially stressful as what they'd experienced in the outside world, or even more so. After they'd shared, one of the white pastors asked some questions.  He explained that he was the senior leader in his organization and he didn't want to do that same thing, he didn't want people of color in his organization to have these bad experiences.  He asked what he could do.

That's my question - what can I do?!

This is the very question that's been bouncing around in my mind and spirit since I began this recent journey.  But it seems like God keeps putting a Wait into my spirit.  To be honest it's made me feel a bit guilty and uncomfortable.  I mean, if I know something is wrong then I need to set about fixing it - right?  I've wondered if maybe I've heard Him wrong and have just been lazy and self serving; but I keep getting that same pause in my Spirit.  I keep getting this feeling of it's OK to take my time and wait.  I figure maybe He needs to do some work in me before I'll be ready or able to do those things which need to be done.

As I was reading today I was totally caught up in this story; I was right there with the guy asking what can I do.  I was just as confused by the response as Hill relates that the guy in the story was.  The leaders of color all looked at each other when he asked the question and finally one acted as the spokesperson and told the guy.  Hills says that the leader of color said "What we would ask for you to do is lament".

This guy, whoever he was, is a man who thinks like me.  Their response confused him and he apologized for possibly being slow (I could so see myself saying that!) but pointed out that this seemed an insufficient response, that he didn't see how feeling bad about something would change his organization.  Then Hill pointed out how most of the American White Church has an insufficient theology and understanding of lament.  It was pretty cool for me because as Hill spoke about who he learned the most about lament from he noted Soong-Chan Rah.  Guess what?  When I bought Hill's book I also felt compelled to purchase a book by an author I'd never heard of named Soong-Chan Rah who wrote a book entitled Prophetic Lament.  A book with such a title is not one I'd normally buy but I just felt drawn to it.  I have this total thing for Asian culture (I confess to spending my TV watching time immersed in Korean and Chinese dramas) so I figured that must have been the reason for the strong pull of that book. But now I realize it's because I'm meant to learn about lamenting.

I want to develop my own theology around lamenting.  I want to understand what it means to lament and begin to practice lamenting in meaningful ways. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Grateful at work

job-success-life - Career Potential Career Coach Philadelphia
Photo from Job Success
One of the things that really impressed me when I read the book Extreme Ownership was the phrase "There's no such thing as bad teams, only bad leaders" and the corresponding  example the  author provided. It struck me because all too often in my mind I'll complain about one of the leaders on  my team.  This phrase was a wake up call for me; they're not the problem, my leadership failure is the problem.  

One of my biggest personal weaknesses is that I'm too nice, too easy going.  It was the same struggle for me as a parent.  For the past 18 months I've not been happy with the program director at work.  I'd tried several ways to get him to step it up.  These were all rather non confrontational, "polite", attempts to get him to be better at his job.  But they hadn't worked.  The most recent thing was that at the beginning of the year I'd put together a form that pretty much holds him accountable for delivering certain things on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.  I hate doing this kind of thing because it's rather micro managing.  But I figured that at least I'd be clear that he would know what he was supposed to be doing (just in case there was any confusion).  I was stunned that he has consistently not gotten those things done.

I let it slide for way too long.  I realized that I just needed to give him a written counseling and performance improvement plan.  He was not seeming to understand his failing the way I've been doing it.  I realized that it doesn't matter if I'm overwhelmed, I'm still called to lead.  I started praying for God to grow passion in me and to grant me the fortitude that I need.  I prayed about how to have the difficult conversation with the program director.

I sat down with him and went through the counseling and improvement plan.  He was his usual charming self but didn't own up to anything.  He made comments such as how he may not be there yet but he's consistently getting better.  I let him know that he's not meeting the job requirements.  Then I just frankly told him that the whole problem can be summed up in the fact that he lacks ownership and passion.  He acts like it's my job and he's just doing a few parts of it; but that it's his program and until he steps up and takes over he'll never be able to get his stuff done.   It was uncomfortable but I was respectful and the next day it looked like he was going to change his ways.  Then he went home in the middle of that next day sick and was out for 4 days.  Then when he came back there was catch up to be done.  But I didn't let things go; I emailed him the revised due dates for the items in his improvement plan since they were all 4 days later than originally planned. 

I've been a bit anxious in the back of my mind about the meeting with him.  If he didn't have the stuff completed he'd end up with write up number two.  My experience is that when you get to this point with a manager, typically it goes downhill from there and it most often ends up with the 3-write-ups-you're-out situation.  I just continued to treat him good and to pray.

Today was the meeting.  He came in with his stuff all done to show me.  I was elated.  But what really blessed my socks off was that he talked to me.  He told me that when he was off he'd thought about what I'd said.  He realized that I was right.  He got into this business because he was passionate about helping people and he'd had great programs he'd been in charge of in the past and had a real sense of pride in his work.  He'd had bad experiences and lost his pride and passion along the way and became burned out by the time he came here 2 years ago.  He realized that he had to look at himself and change.  For the first time since I've known this man I really respected him.

Anyone can get burned out - life is hard!  But it takes character to recognize personal failure and to commit to change.  He showed me that today.

I'm grateful.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

You gotta see it before you can be it

Hill brings up a few more concepts that I want to ponder:

  • Transformational analogies in the Bible
  • America's history of white supremacy
  • White Trauma and denial
  • Common Memory
Transformational analogies in the Bible
Caterpillar Into Butterfly PNG Transparent Caterpillar Into ...
Graphic from Caterpillar Into Butterfly
The Nicodemus encounter with Jesus where he's told in John 3:3:
"Jesus replied. 'Very truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again'" (NIV)

The Message Paraphrase puts John 3:3 this way:
"Jesus said.  You're absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it's not possible to see what I'm pointing to - God's Kingdom"

This concept of being born again, coming into God's Kingdom and being transformed from a person living for the gods of this world into walking in God's ways, is a central theme in Christianity.  Hill points out that it starts with seeing. I've typically thought about how I need to see God's ways, but Hill's encouraged me that I also need to see this world's ways so I can see the difference; and then God can work His change in me. There really are two kingdoms here and truly seeing helps me know what to do, where to go, to be able to live God's Kingdom life.

Only God can truly open my eyes to SEE; I'm continuing to seek Him in this journey.

This is the account of an incident that took place during the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt and  to the promised land. The people were complaining about not having water, detesting the manna God was giving them, and speaking against God and Moses. God caused venomous snakes to come among them and bite and even kill some of the Israelites. Then the people came and admitted to their wrong doing and Moses prayed for them.  God directed Moses to make a snake and put it on a pole and the people could be healed by looking at it.

Hill points out that the snake became a symbol of the trauma the people suffered due to their sin and, by looking at it, the people were healed.  He continues the analogy, coupled with Jesus' words recorded  in John 8:32 about knowing the truth and that setting you free, to say that we can be transformed only when we see the truth about our own sin.  If we can't see our sin, we will continue in the bondage of our sin.  If we can see the sin and repent, then we will allow God to do the transforming work of changing us from our sinful ways.

Jesus compares people who listen what He says and put them into practice to people who build their house on a solid foundation instead of on sand.  

Hill talks about how our foundation matters.  If our foundation is lies, then what can we build?  What will we transform into?  If our foundation is truth, then we can transform into God's Kingdom lives.

Being in Christ, and living in His Kingdom, requires that we leave behind the world's ways and step into His ways.  The old is gone and the new has come.

America's History of White Supremacy 
When Women are the Enemy: The Intersection of Misogyny and White ...
Graphic from ADL

This one is painful for someone like me to read and accept; but my heart knows the truth when I see it.

Hill goes through scores of historical events that demonstrate this; slavery, the one-drop rule, Jim Crow laws and lynchings.

In a sick way it is fascinating to consider what America did to make slavery "okay" in their minds.  Since slavery couldn't be OK if we read the Bible and see that humans are created in God's image and are all valuable.  Instead, the narrative that was created was that the black people were less than the white people.  Hill points out that prior to this, the people coming to America did not initially think of themselves as white; they were British, French, German, Welsh, Dutch, Irish, etc. Because the way the economic system was designed there was a need for slaves, having a white race allowed for an Okay-ness to slavery.  If the Europeans were seen as a superior white collective, then what they did to Native Americans and black slaves could be Okay.

The one drop rule was a legal principle that any person with even a drop of sub-Saharan African blood was to be considered black.  The obvious message here was that white was the superior race and even a drop of inferior blood contaminated the purity of whiteness.  There were even laws prohibiting marriage between whites and other races.

Jim Crow laws were constitutional provisions that mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, public transportation and public restrooms.  Throughout America's history there were cases of people of color having the justice system by-passed and being hung (lynched) for perceived offenses; these events were so horrible that it is beyond comprehension that this could have happened in our country.

White trauma and denial
White Supremacy Is Deadly For Everyone | HuffPost
Graphic from Huffington Post

Trauma responses have been thought of as emotional responses.  But psychologists have come to realize that Trauma happens in the body.  It's a spontaneous protective mechanism used by the body to stop or thwart further/future potential damage. 

"Trauma is not a flaw or weakness. It is a highly effective tool for safety and survival.

Trauma is also not an event. Trauma is the body's protective response to an event - or series of events - that it perceives as potentially dangerous. 

An embedded trauma response can manifest as fighting, fleeing, or freezing - or as some combination of constriction, pain, fear, dread, anxiety, unpleasant thoughts, reactive behaviors, or other sensations and experiences.  This trauma then gets stuck in the body - and stays stuck there until it is addressed. Our rational brain can't stop it from occurring, and it can't talk our body out of it" (Menakem, 2018).   

"The attitudes, convictions, and beliefs of white-body supremacy are reflexive cognitive side effects, like the belief of a claustrophone that the walls are closing in. These ideas have been reinforced through institutions as practice, procedures, and standards" (Menakem, 2018). 

Hill sets forth the belief that it is impossible to be complicit with centuries of traumatizing oppression without becoming traumatized oneself. He states that he believes that white trauma explains why otherwise logical people can come to illogical conclusions and live in denial about what goes on around them.  He explains that denial is comfortable; I mean, who wants to deal with the fact that grandparents that they truly love and see as good people may also be racist?  I have Hill's book in paperback as well as audible.  Recently when I was in the kitchen cutting up vegetables and listening, my husband came in.  It was during the part where Hill was relating the racist history of our country, and my husband commented that this was painful to hear, but that it's true.

After relating America's history of racism, Hill then goes back to look at how God is the God of truth and the enemy is the speaker of the language of lies.  He brings in the Numbers 21:4-8 account and explains that God wanted the Israelites to look at that serpent, the symbol of their sin, for healing.  He reminds us of how Jesus said in John 8:32 that truth sets us free.

He postulates that we won't be free to transform into disciples of Christ who participate in Kingdom living until we come out of denial and deal with our sin in this area. 

Common Memory

Switch on Your Brain III | Better Homes and Gardens - Editorial ...
Graphic from Pineterest
Hill quotes George Erasmus, and aboriginal advocate, saying that "Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no community".This points to the fact that White denial of America's true history keeps Americans of all colors of having real community. Hill challenges " Will we continue to live in denial and allow our home to be built on the weak, foundation of myths, and half-truths? Or will we have the courage to live up to the truth and allow God's holy fire to burn down the old and erect a new home that can hold us all?" " Denial or truth? Sand or rock? Fear or courage?  Let us boldly choose to follow the one who is Truth."

All of this is a LOT to take in.  My mind is reeling and my heart is anguished.  I'm praying that God would awaken me to truth and show me what this means in my every day life.

I find myself noticing things that people say and attitudes that people have that demonstrate white trauma.  I try to gently interject truth into conversations while avoiding any kind of judgmentalism.

I've been thinking, the Holocaust museum in La and the Alcatraz tour/museum in the San Francisco Bay area, are both powerful experiences.  We need these types of museums related to the American massacre of the Native Americans, Slavery, and Lynchings/mistreatment of people of color in our history.  We need these places scattered across the nation to help us understand our history, move our emotions, and hopefully instill a desire in us to not repeat/continue this history. [Please note that this is not all I think we need, it's just one tiny thing that I think would be good.]


Friday, July 3, 2020

God shows up on the Inside of me

History and Meaning of Lavender Roses - ProFlowers Blog
Photo from The History and Meaning of Lavender Roses

I never cease to be amazed at God's goodness to me.

I've been reading a book entitled Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton that is about practices you can incorporate into your life. Barton emphasizes how it's not about earning anything from God by doing these things, it's about making yourself more available to God.

This morning when I came to my time with God I knew I'd had a bad attitude lately.  I've been super overwhelmed by the work load at my job. This Covid-19 thing has caused a TON of extra work in the  SNF (skilled nursing facility) world.  I'm grateful that we don't have any cases yet but still DPH (department of public health) is there all the time, calling me, I have to do online survey every day (even my days off or when I take a few vacation days) before noon and I have to report our PPE supplies daily.  My job is super challenging just ordinarily, but with COVID it's gotten to place where I've struggled with those feelings of this is just too much!!

So I come to God and I remember anew my bad attitude and start to say I'm sorry and that I know I need to change.  Then I have this super  quick experience, I'm not sure exactly how to explain it, but's it's like God shows up on the inside of me.  The Holy Spirit wells up in me and I start out by saying my words of apology/repentance to God, but then I start hearing myself saying words about how I need to stop saying all these things about it being too much and start thanking God that it is He Who will give me the energy I need to do these things...I don't know how to explain this but it was a spiritual experience.  God infused me with faith and hope and a view of a different way of living. I wasn't engaging in any of these spiritual practices such as Lecto Divina or solitude & silence or anything else.  It was just me on my couch trying to come to God and feeling kind of guilty and disconnected. I'd recently gone to visit my son & his family in Monterey so my typical rhythms were off and I'd not had quality morning time with God lately.  Everything's been rushed with me getting up earlier and trying to get into work earlier so I can get more accomplished, and then working late and being exhausted.  The main thing I'm trying to express here is I haven't been doing anything right, but here's God showing up for me any way.  Talk about the best One to be in a relationship with - God's definitely THE ONE!  Don't get me wrong, my husband's great and I love him & am grateful for him; but sometimes we disappoint each other.  And I'm a classic romantic who longs for romance...but God, man He's the best!

I just wanted to take a moment and try to write down this experience.  Because I'm grateful and I want to remember these precious moments.  I treasure these experiences.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

White privilege

I am not 'white,' but I am surrounded by white privilege ...
Graphic from Bangor Daily News
This is my journey and the journal of my journey. So I can be totally honest.  I am starting with the fact that the term "white privilege" makes me cringe.  I associate it with liberal America.  The rich actors & actresses who bail rioters out of jail (those rioters who damaged & destroyed the businesses of working Americans).  I associate the term with academics who are out of the touch with the day to day lives of the rest of us.

But I've started on this journey and I'm seeking to see and listen.

Most of the definitions I read of white privilege left me cold.  Wikipedia talks about societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people. Wiki also mentions an invisible package of unearned assets. When I read this kind of thing it sounds like no white people suffer.  Or  that affluent white people didn't have to work hard to get to where they are at. 

However, I was captivated by the definition that Hill  shares from Julian DeShazier (incidentally I looked up Julian and am quite impressed.  He's someone I want to listen to more of.  Was deeply moved by his youtube Strange Fruit). DeShazier says "white privilege is the ability to walk away, the ability to go back to normal if we choose".

DeShazier's right - I can always walk away.

This reminds of something that a therapist who I was once seeing told me.  That therapist was black.  She told me once that typically nothing is about race for white people but everything is about race for black people.  I never understood what she meant at that time. It's starting to make sense to me now.

A journey into learning about what being white really means

Most likely because of everything going on in the world around me with the George Floyd tragedy and rioting, I find my heart reaching out to want....change. 

But this is a different kind of longing then I've known in the past.  This time it's not about starting with doing. There's a feeling deep in my inner being that feels like I need to change, but that before I can change, I need to see who I am, where I am at.  Perhaps I also need to learn how people who are different then me see people who are like me.

I want to better understand how people who aren't white feel. 

With this in mind I ordered 2 books to help me, both of which I found were on back order so it will be awhile before I get them.  However, one of them I was also able to purchase on Audible so I've been listening to it.  It's entitled White Awake by Daniel Hill.

The secondary title line on Hill's book is "an honest look at what it means to be white".

I think this is where my journey needs to start - with seeing what it means to be white.

I honestly have never really thought about that.  But I want to journey into understanding what white culture is.  I think because numerically there are more white people in America, it is the dominant culture.  Because it's the dominant culture it is unrecognized.

One of the things that I think has positioned me to be ready to embark upon this journey is a situation with my youngest son Daniel that's been going on for a few years.  He has some beliefs that don't make sense to me and he's almost ostracized me. Because he is my son and my love for him is great, I've been willing to do what it takes to keep the relationship.  One of the truths I came to as I've been on that journey with Daniel was that I needed to become a safe person for Daniel to share how he felt.  To not come to Daniel with an attitude of needing to defend myself, but to come with him a sincere desire to want to hear his perception, his pain, his experience.  Now Daniel and I aren't anywhere near where I long to be yet.  He has a list of things I am not allowed to talk with him about: my spiritual beliefs, politics, anything he thinks could be advice (and trust me on this, there's a lot of things that I can't fathom how he perceived them to be advice giving).  But one of the things I've learned, and am constantly seeking to grow at doing, is this idea of really hearing another person.  To understand that the other person's experiences and "reality" may not match mine and to set my "reality" aside for a moment to hear the other person's.  I guess it's a simple as the old adage about stepping into another person's shoes.

So I am coming to this whole issue of race with a desire to step back, look at myself and my own white culture, and hear how people who aren't white perceive white culture.

Right now I don't want to do anything other than as accurately as possible really see and hear.

Heavenly Father, I open up my heart to You.  Please open my eyes and heart so I can see and hear.  Please lead me where I am to go.  I affirm my trust in You.  I thank You that You are trustworthy.  Oh Father I ask forgiveness for my former complacency and apathy.  I'm sorry for my shallow concern for the struggles of my brothers and sisters of color. Thank You for Your patience with my slowness.  Father, You're the only one who can bring about change.  Show me what I need to do, and Father please change what needs to be changed in me.  Oh Holy Spirit empower me to cooperate with the process of the upcoming days.....

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