one day when the glory comes

A friend texted me the following quote this week:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.  We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel

What follows is a post I’ve been mulling over for a few weeks.  It’s still not fully thought through and it’s not profound in anyway.  But it is an attempt at not being silent anymore, regardless of how unprepared I am to speak.

IMG_4538 The first time I visited the National Civil Rights Museum was in March 2010.  I clearly remember a moment where I found myself standing in a replica of a jail cell listening to the reading of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.  I stood in that jail cell and tears streamed down my face as I listened to this letter.
In this letter, Dr. King is responding to white area clergy who had written a statement calling his actions and the civil rights movement “unwise and untimely.”  His response is humble but firm – that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Back then I had just decided on moving to Chicago to pursue my masters.  I was beginning the path toward where I am now – an ordained pastor serving in a church setting.  Standing there and listening to his words ignited something in me – a passion to fight for justice, especially within the racial tensions in America.
As I was exiting seminary, someone asked me what I thought my role in racial righteousness ministry.  Throughout seminary I had been challenged to see myself and the world around me differently.  I had come face to face with ugly truths in my own life and in the world, especially when it came to racial righteousness.  So this question to me gave me pause.
I’ve been trying to answer that question for the last six years.  To see where I fit in on this long road towards justice for all.  What’s my leg of the race?  Where do I fit into it?
Along this journey of discovery for myself, I have found beauty in the discussions.  I’ve entered in with my brothers and sisters in Christ as I’ve tried to understand the various perspectives in justice ministry.  I’ve sat uncomfortably in the anger.  I’ve cried the tears of brokenness and pain.  I’ve rejoiced alongside my brothers and sisters who find triumph in their ministries in building bridges.
Last month I found myself in that same jail cell replica.  I was en route to Jackson, MS with an intergenerational group from our church.  We were going to serve alongside another Covenant church and on the way we were stopping to enter into this conversation about race in America.
I took the picture above on this second trip.  I wanted to remember the first time I stood in that cell and at the same time I wanted to rejoice in how far I’ve come in my own understanding.  But I also took this picture for another reason – to remind me that I’m still on the outside.  
I’ve done some hard work in my life to understand racism in America.  I have had to do some digging in my own life as a biracial woman.  I’ve dealt with racism and sexism directed towards me.  I understand being marginalized in some aspects.  But I am still on the outside of this jail cell.
I still have white privilege.  I will never fully understand what it feels like to be afraid of law enforcement, to do everything right and still be disrespected, beaten or killed.
Dr. King was constantly challenging white clergy to enter into the conversation.  To mourn alongside those who mourn and to be heartbroken by the belittling and loss of life.  To not stand idly by while our brothers and sisters are being devalued, killed and held back from the type of life they deserve.
When tragedy strikes us the way it has this week in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minnesota or in recent weeks in Orlando and overseas – we must join together and lament.  To fight darkness with light.
Yes – Hate is alive in our country.  Fear is alive in our country.  But so is Christ.  Christ is alive and he is mourning the loss of life.  He is weeping over the bodies of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the five officers in Dallas.
I’m still working through what this looks like in my own life – how I am called to act.  But I refuse to look away, to be silent when the darkness is so loud.
May we join together and engage in this conversation on how to redeem and mend the brokenness all around us.

courage is something i'll need now…

From Birmingham we went to Montgomery, AL where the Southern Poverty Law Center has a Civil Rights Memorial. Once again we were lead in as a group and stood in a room faced with the awful facts of this movement. On the wall were the stories of 41 people that died trying to further the movement. On the wall were the 4 girls killed in Birmingham. As well as another boy killed that same day in Birmingham. He was riding on the handlebars of his friend (maybe brother) and was shot by a white boy on a motorized scooter riding with one of his friends. These boys were all 16 and the boy who fired the shot was hardly charged with anything.

Then there was the story of Emmett Till. An African American boy from Chicago who allegedly whistled at a white woman. Her husband and their friends kidnapped him and murdered him by tying barbed wire around his neck and beating him. His mother bravely asked for his body to be returned to Chicago and held an open casket funeral so that everyone could see what was done to her boy.

This Memorial is meant to show the events of the Civil Rights Movement and how people were killed as a result of it. Their goal was to take these names and allow them to be known and for their stories to be known.

The SPLC also pursues civil lawsuits to benefit those who are killed by hate crimes. They also monitor hate groups and have been known to shut down a couple of branches of the KKK that still exist. A truly inspiration place to be and to put your hands on the names of those killed fighting for the rights of African Americans.

Also at the SPLC is a room that has the “Wall of Tolerance” where you can electronically sign a vow to take a stand against hate, injustice and intolerance. Once you submit your vow, your name comes up on this giant video screen that goes floor to ceiling wall to wall with all these names of people who have signed this vow.
I can’t begin to explain how powerful it was to stand in that room with these fellow journeyers and watch all of our names come up on the screen. One after another as we stood there and watch. It wasn’t even the end of the journey but it was great to see us all taking a stand against the common enemy.
Part of the emotional hardness of this trip was feeling helpless. Feeling like I couldn’t possibly know how to move forward from this trip. I still have moments of that, even now, weeks later. Thinking, how do I possibly apply the things I learned on this trip to my daily life. I mean, I live a cushy lifestyle here in Colorado suburbia. I live a segregated life, not purposefully but it’s the nature of where I live. And I can’t wrap my head around what it would look like to desegregate my life.
There’s this mentality in “white” Christianity that in order to be around people of different life situations, we go to a “poorer” place in our state and we serve them. It’s almost like we are bringing what we have to offer to a group of people that can benefit from us. (which is a bigger topic for another time).
So that’s where I am … I’m trying to figure out exactly how it looks, in my life, to fight hate, injustice and intolerance. I am trying, really trying. Part of walking away from this journey is my attempt to love better. To love more. To love selflessly. It ties into everything I’m learning from God right now and it’s a hard road. Because most of the time, I’m bad at it. And I’m not even really talking about loving my friends better, I’m talking about loving every individual I come into contact with. Whether I know them or not, whether they have something to give me back or not, and mostly whether they love me well or not.
So here’s to love. Ugly, relentless Love. Love that’s hard and love that breaks your heart. It takes a lot of courage so read the title of this blog as something I’m continuously asking for, not just a lyric from a great Jack’s Mannequin song. (There, There Katie).
so see this as a to be continued…

unseen things now seen (by me)

Friday morning I woke up sleepy and maybe a little grumpy. Okay, maybe a lot grumpy. However, sleeping past 6 a.m. was not something I was going to be aloud so I tried to rally by splashing cold water on my face in the bathroom of a rest stop. I got back on the bus a little less than happy to be alive but remembered the journey I was on and tried to pay attention.

As we continued our drive into Birmingham, AL we watched the movie 4 Little Girls which tells the story of the events preceding the bomb that went off in the famous 16th St Baptist Church which injured 22 people and killed 4 young girls, ages 11 and 14, while they were getting ready for Sunday school. After watching most of the film, we stopped for breakfast at New City Covenant Church. We were greeted by one of their pastors who was not only alive at the time of these Civil Rights events but marched in the famous Children’s March of 1963 that preceded the bombing of the church. It’s a march famous for the reaction the police had on the people. They used police dogs and fire hoses to “tame” the children who were just quietly participating in a march for their rights.

After breakfast we got back on the bus and went a few blocks to the famous church. We walked into the 16th St Baptist Church and sat in their pews waiting on groups to arrive. As I sat there, I looked around this historic sanctuary, trying to imagine that day in 1963 when everything changed for that congregation. We watched another video there that chronicled the church’s involvement as well as the events of that day and the events after that day.

One of their pastors told us of the renovations that were done after the bombing to restore the side of the building that was destroyed. This included having to repair 3 stained glass windows that needed to match those that were built decades before. So they hired a famous artist from Whales to come out and redo these windows. This man was so touched by the story of this church and what had happened that he went back to Whales and took up an offering at schools to put in a special window. So in the back of their sanctuary there is a window that they call their “Whales Window.” It depicts and African American man suffering in silence (as Jesus had) pushing one hand out – against oppression – and one hand is uplifted – asking for forgiveness for the oppressors. It is a beautiful window.

We then walked across the street to the Civil Rights Institute (called an institute – not a museum because it is meant to educate). We began the journey through time – in our partner groups. It started with a film about how after slavery was ended that the African American population in the US basically built our country by taking the dangerous jobs that the Caucasian population didn’t want. Laying the railroad, mining, etc. And that everything became segregated. It ends with a picture of a water fountain that says “Whites” and basically a rusted spicket that says “Colored.” Then the screen lifts up and opens the room into the institute with the actual water fountain / spicket. So we all got up and ventured in.

What followed was pictures and models of the various things that separated the “whites” from the African Americans. The things that stuck out to me most were – pictures of ads depicting African Americans in a mocking way, a laundry truck that said “Imperial Laundry – we wash for whites only,” the comparison of houses in African American neighborhoods. Then there were the awful pictures of lynching, cross burnings, and a KKK outfit. It was appalling. Pictures from the day that African American students tried to attend school in Arkansas – the faces of children full of hatred and rage. I fought back the tears the whole way through. Attempting to write down all the things that stuck out and that made me cringe.

Then we entered a room that just had holograms of people and over the speakers came words of hate that I’m sure flew out of many mouths. Words I could never imagine repeating anywhere. A little further and we saw the beginning efforts of Martin Luther King , Jr. He came to Birmingham to aid in the marches and to speak. He was arrested and thrown into jail. While in jail he became aware of a letter from officials of Birmingham calling this movement (his movement) untimely and unwise. He responded to this letter with a letter that is later to be referred to as “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

In the institute they have a little mini hallway where on one side you have a mock jail cell and on the other wall there is the letter, blown up to be read at a distance by many people. And if you press a button you can hear a voice read the letter. I stood in that hallway and began reading that letter. He began by addressing that they could not be told to wait any longer. He then recounted the many prejudices that his family faces and the results of those actions. I stood there reading this letter and thinking of all of the things that had happened up to this point. All the injustices, all the deaths, the deaths still to come – including Dr. Kings – the way that people would continue to be treated for years to come.

And I broke. I stood there with tears flowing down my face. Thinking to myself that no wonder there is so much hate toward “whites.” They have every right to be mad. What if this had been a part of my story, my history. Realizing that all they were asking for was equal rights and they were being denied. They wanted to belong in this country that they helped build. They wanted the same freedoms that this country was built upon. It absolutely broke my heart that this was their reality. And on top of that, this man was writing a letter to his oppressors – to those who have used hate and violence toward him and his family – and his words were eloquent and full of love. He was truly responding to hate with love. It was the most tragically beautiful thing I’ve ever read.

So picture me – standing in this institute, in this tiny little hallway, clutching my journal to my chest and tears streaming down my face. I was so overwhelmed I almost didn’t realize I was crying. All there was in the world was me and the words of Martin Luther King, Jr staring me in the face. Suddenly, another member of our journey – who was African American – is beside me, handing me a tissue. He placed an arm around my shoulders and I just stood there for a moment, allowing him to embrace me in that raw place.

From there I moved on and continued on the journey. But that moment I will always remember. I will never forget how it felt for my heart to break in that way and how another person on the journey comforted me within his own pain.

“We will accept the violence and the hate, absorbing it without returning it.” – James Lawson

do you know what you're getting yourself into?

Sankofa = “looking backward to move forward” – also known as an intentional, cross-racial prayer journey seeking to assist disciples of Christ on their move toward a righteous response to the ills related to racism. I embarked on the Sankofa Journey last weekend and I will be recounting some of it as well as some of what I learned on the trip. We promise confidentiality to the rest of our group which is why I will not be using names in these posts. Although the people I went with are not a mystery, only their part in my story. Most of my reflections are my story anyway, so you’ll be fine not knowing their names okay? Okay.

On Thursday March 4th at 3:45 p.m. I found myself in the lounge of North Park Theological seminary. I stood in a room full of strangers and more kept coming in. I know 3 of the 12 or so people in the room. The introvert inside of me screamed at me to leave, to run, to pull out my phone and pretend to be busy or something ridiculous like that. But the sensible side of me (or more the presence of the Holy Spirit in me) made me smile and begin to jump into the small talk that filled the room.

“Hi, my name’s ______, what’s yours?” I looked into the face of a woman my mom’s age.
“Alicia. Nice to meet you.” I shook her hand reluctantly, eyes darting all around. She probably thought me rude but I was just nervous. The introductions continued until our fearless leaders called us together. We met our partners (that’s where the cross-racial part comes in), had dinner and began our journey with introductions to the group – Name, where are you from and interesting fact. Then we were supposed to go around the circle again and this time the question was: How would you prefer to be identified?

At first we all thought that meant like, what nickname do you like. Wrong. The question was referring to our ethnicities. With as many options out there, the question was, how do we prefer to be identified? The first few people hemmed and hawed their way through it. Then words started coming together and there sure were a lot… white, black, African American, Caucasian, European American, Anglo, Japanese, Mexican American. There were many. When it came to my turn I struggled.

I’m half Mexican and half “white.” Although I’ve learned that I hate that word – white. But more on that to come. The first half (ish) of my life I lived in a place where being Mexican was not a good thing. So I played up my “white side.” Then I lived in CO and became nothing short of proud to be half Mexican. But I always struggled with calling myself Mexican American because I’m only half. So I start to call myself Hispanic or Latina. Other times I just point out that I’m half Mexican. But in filling out those forms I guess I should check Hispanic and Caucasian. So I ended on Hispanic/Caucasian. Still seemed like a cop out but I’ll take it.

By 8:00 p.m. we were loading onto the bus and I was feeling completely overwhelmed. We had already had some pretty intense conversation on the difference between being African American and being of lighter skin. I had always struggled on which words to use, knowing the obvious ones I shouldn’t use but struggling between “black” and “African American” but I never knew that it was really a preference that each person has on their own. It’s not a simple yes or no question.

So there I was, loading onto the bus already feeling intimidated by the journey. Already knowing that there was so much I didn’t know. So much I’d never experienced. The entire Civil Rights Movement – as currently documented – happened 17 years before I was born. In my naïve mind, I was virtually unaffected by these events. They happened long before I was around, we have arrived to a peaceful place. But as I was about to learn, I could not be further from the truth.