I wake up much earlier than I want to on a chilly Tuesday morning, swiping to the left to dismiss my alarm and thus begin my morning routine. I grumble as I trip over our suitcase, still full from a long holiday weekend spent eating copious amounts of leftovers and playing games with family, on my way to the bathroom. Startling myself with the flip of the light switch, I brush away my morning breath and forget to brush my hair again, leaving it in the messy bun from the night before. My phone parrots the latest headlines, stopping me in my tracks, adding to the seemingly endless streak of dizzying chaos and rampant heartache.Read More
Dear you, dear me, dear us,
I've lived in a three-hour radius nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains for my entire life. Growing up, my friends and I stayed out past dark playing in our neighborhood's lazy loops and stealing crabapples from an elderly neighbor's front yard, only breaking up the party when someone's mama whistled that it was time to come in.Read More
Dear you, dear me, dear beloved and pursued bride,
When my friend Devonne asked me four years ago now about my thoughts on why young people are disengaging from church, it had never occurred to me that I might one day leave, too. I was faithfully attending—plugged in, as the church folks say,Read More
Dear you, dear me, dear us,
I was a fresh faced sophomore in college, packing to go home on a holiday break when the ping! of the headline reached through my smartphone and down into the soul of me: another shooting, another attack, another devastating loss of life. Like most millennials, I typically hear about current events through social media first, so I took to my timeline to read what major news outlets and the people in my circles were saying. And there it was, tucked in the middle of the collective grief: a post overflowing with Islamophobic language, followed by several equally furious and hateful comments—their own tiny rally of hate, snug and nearly hidden amidst the outpouring of emotions and Jesus, come soon's. The author of the original post was a woman who worked with my mother; a woman who had never been anything but kind and encouraging to me, and who, just the day before, had posted all about how much she wanted her life to glorify Jesus. I dared to toss my two cents into the thread, hopeful that she would recognize that her words were deeply damaging. Muslims are human beings, I said, and are worthy of dignity and kindness. I went on to say that it wasn't fair to find the overwhelmingly peaceful majority guilty for the actions of the radical few.
It didn't take long at all for my fellow commenters to offer up some words just for me.
I was called naive.
Someone told me to "watch out for stones."
I was called an ignorant sheep and told to "enjoy the burka."
I was called arrogant.
A stranger told me that I was a "bad Christian who had clearly not read The Bible."
Apparently, doing unto others as you would have them do to you and loving your neighbor as you love yourself are taken pretty loosely by some around these parts, more like polite suggestions and less like the commandments that they are. In case you haven't noticed, we love ourselves an awful lot, but loving our neighbor at all, let alone loving them as we love ourselves, is a constant struggle. I’m reminded of the fact that admiration without criticism is simple infatuation: a short lived passion.
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of watching pieces of myself be suffocated and die off at the hands of short lived passions.
This is not the death that we are called to.
It's not how I want to go—not how I want to be remembered after I leave this life.
It isn't the legacy I want to leave for my children and their children.
I suspect it isn't how you want to be remembered, either.
We must examine ourselves.
It's going to be hard, y’all—standing up and admitting that yes, we are capable of that kind of hate, that we've actively participated in or seen and heard racist actions and comments and not immediately shut them down because to even acknowledge them for what they are would be too uncomfortable or costly. Family members might not understand. We might have to give up our spot in the "in crowd" in our places of work and worship and learning.
We must own the fact that the depersonalization of an entire group of human beings has been so intrinsically woven into the DNA of our society that we hardly even realize that it's there, that our entire existence as a country has been at the expense of those we've deemed as less than. We must own the fact that we have allowed fear to take root in our hearts and that we have allowed that fear to bully us into the belief that to acknowledge someone else's worth takes away from our own. We have to call it what it is: white supremacy, and pure, unadulterated racism.
I know what you're thinking. You aren't a racist. You would never do or say the damaging things we saw in Charlottesville. I believe you. I wouldn't, either. I know that for most of us, we genuinely believe that we're doing the best we can. But it isn't enough to just not be racist—we must speak out and condemn the words and actions of those who are. We must be the Esthers who are willing to acknowledge that if we have been given any privilege in this life, it is for the purpose of making sure that those on the outside have a way to get in.
Acknowledging our capacity for racism will be difficult. It might feel like the hardest thing we've ever done. But I promise you, if you ask Trayvon Martin's mother about the hardest thing she's ever done, she's going to tell you about burying her baby. If you ask Diamond Reynolds' four-year-old daughter about the hardest thing she's ever done, she'll tell you about begging her mother to be quiet so the cops don't shoot her, too. And if you had the chance to ask Heather Heyer if she would choose to show up again, my gut tells me she would say yes.
We owe it to them. We owe it to our neighbors. We owe it to our children and our children's children to tell a different story with our lives starting from this moment forward. Because when we dare to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, it changes the narrative of our lives. It changes the narratives of our families and our schools and our churches and our civic organizations and our communities. It makes a difference for eternity.
We owe it to our neighbors and our children's children to educate ourselves: to listen to our black neighbors and believe them when they share their experiences. We owe it to them to not make excuses or turn their narratives into partisan debates. We owe them our eyes, unafraid to look at the scars and the pain and the centuries their souls have traveled barefoot. We owe it to them to not just say that black lives matter, but to show it. Because we cannot love what we are unwilling to see.
We owe it to our neighbors and our children and our children's children to hold our leaders accountable for their words and actions—to let them know that we refuse to let them boast hatred and plant fear for a single moment longer.
We owe it to our neighbors and our children to pick up our crosses and die to ourselves, abolishing any shred of manifest destiny that isn't directly tied to the everlasting Kingdom—killing off any seed in us that is at odds with a free spirit. Because the Jesus whom we so proudly boast on our bumper stickers and Twitter bios and business cards came down to tear down every single barrier. He came to put our shame to death; allowing his own flesh to be ripped open so we could have a new name.
So you can feel free to call me naive. You can tell me that justice and equity are dreams that will never be realized on this side of heaven. I've heard it many, many time before. But I wholeheartedly believe that Jesus wouldn’t have asked us to pray for the Father’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven if that wasn’t a prayer he was ready and willing to answer. Mother Teresa said she "used to believe that prayer changes things, but really, prayer changes us and we change things." And I want to be in on the answer. Surely, there will be many days when the enormity of the problem will overwhelm us, but we must not allow it to paralyze us. We must be brave enough to take the next step, brave enough to expose our own beliefs, actions and lack thereof, holding them up to the light of truth. I won't be perfect at this. None of us will be, but our imperfection does not relieve us from our calling as believers to usher in a new kingdom.
For your continued viewing/reading:
These thoughts from Brene Brown
Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
13th, a Netflix documentary directed by the incredibly wise and talented Ava Duvurnay
Time: The Kalif Browder Story—documentary, Netflix
For Akheem—documentary, Amazon
How to Heal When Your Heart is Tired, by Daje Morris
After Charlottesville: The Question We Absolutely Have to Answer, by Lisa Sharon Harper via Ann Voskamp
These words from Brittany Packnett
These words from Shveta Thakrar
Proximity > Politics, by Shannan Martin
Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult
Dear you, dear me, dear us standing weary hand in hand together,
I must confess, I know next to nothing about politics. I am 26 years old, and only registered to vote for the first time this year, so if you want to tune me out, I understand. But I'm not coming to you with political opinions. Instead, I'm coming to you with this heart and these ears and these hands and feet. They're all I've got, and honestly, they're kind of busted up. But the older I get, the more I learn that people don't need opinions or advice. They don't need perfection. What they need is to see the bruises. They need to know that you've seen enough of life and this world to know that the answers aren't always black and white. People need to see you living into the tension.
I almost gave up last week. My social feeds were like a nasty car accident that I couldn't look away from, and I could feel my blood pressure climbing with each new post. I cried when Michelle Obama surprised people who were paying tribute to her on late night TV. I went on and on to my husband about my feelings about our new president and the choices he has made in the last 28 days. The marching and the not marching and the refugees and Planned Parenthood and the how dare you's and name calling. One guy I follow actually had to unfriend his mom on Facebook because she was harassing him and his friends because they had the audacity to express opinions that differed from her own. But I couldn't stop scrolling -- not until I sat straight up in bed at 3 AM after having a nightmare about ISIS and nuclear war.
I was on the fast track to throwing every piece of electronic equipment we own off of our third-floor balcony and spending an entire week in bed surrounded by snotty, tear-drenched tissues. I could feel the panic attacks coming, but I came here instead. To write us a love letter.
I have a lot of friends who are experiencing deeply personal pain -- friends who have watched their babies die, friends whose marriages have crumbled, friends who have siblings in mental hospitals, friends who have lost jobs or received harrowing diagnoses. Those things can feel like too much to survive, without the turmoil we see unfold in our world with each new day. And we're all silently questioning how we're going to wake up and face whatever tomorrow holds. Perhaps we're all wondering a little bit where God is, where the hell it all went so wrong, and how on earth we're going to find the strength to just stay here.
It's okay to ask those questions. We don't have to run from them or pretend they don't exist. It's okay to give names to the strange and terrible things we sometimes feel and think. We can lay it all out on the table without shame and feel free to let the grief wash over us the way that only grief does.
We can choose to push back when the darkness starts closing in.
We can choose to look back at the countless ways that God has proven himself to be faithful and tell the devil that we've got too much street cred to be worried about the tricks he's turning.
We can take a hard look at our own walls and decide that today is the day that they come down. We could find a neighbor and let them know they're not alone -- that we hurt, too. We could invite a college student over and talk Jesus and The Bible on the living room floor over Chinese takeout. We could call up the single mama for a Chick-fil-A playdate. We could be brave and send the text message that says "I miss you." Why would we wait until tomorrow?
Jesus rose so that his Bride could rise. The world is desperate and this is our moment.
This isn't some wide-eyed idealism or wild theatrics. This is how the world changes. Person to person, allowing others to stick their hands in our wounds so that they can know they aren't the only ones who are a little bit bloody from the fight.
Jesus prayed that we would be known for our unity -- that our single-mindedness, our hard and fast pursuit of his upside down kingdom come to earth, would be so magnetic that the outside world would be unable to ignore it. He asked this of God on our behalf.
And then he gave us some armor, because he knew that this day was coming. He saw the headlines coming down the pipeline and said you're going to need some reinforcements.
We carry around the fullness of God in jars of clay, and God knows we're tired. He knows we're pressed. He knows that we've stood gaping at the wide mouthed grave of our dream of how the story would read had the pen been in our hands.
The invitation is simple, but it isn't easy. Stay. Give. Dare to show up naked and vulnerable with your wide open wounds, because the place you are standing right now is holy ground. It's where the healing happens. It's where we get filled up and sent out. Not the place you were yesterday or the place you will be tomorrow, but this moment right here and now.
It's the only one we've got.
And we can trust that he's here.
Dear you, dear me, dear weary world, dear us standing together—
When I was growing up, I didn't know anything about the Liturgical Year. We attended a small Pentecostal church with rusty red carpet and green pews and a hefty pastor and my parents were not well versed in the church calendar. I knew about Daniel and the lion's den, Esther becoming queen, the prodigal son, and how one time Jesus made a cocktail of spit and dirt and rubbed it in the eyes of a blind man to give him back his sight.
I knew about the highlights. Christmas and Good Friday and Easter and that one Sunday every year when people got really wild and waved palm branches around (that especially embarrassed me). Lent was a time when some people decided to give up chocolate for 40 days, but in the end they just felt like losers, because who could really make it 40 days without chocolate? I knew nothing of Epiphany or Advent or the strings of ordinary time that held them together.
As an adult, I grow more appreciative of the intricacy of the Liturgical calendar with each passing year. This year, Advent, in particular, has opened me up to a kind of awe and wonder that I've scarcely ever felt. And it has broken me wide open to an unbridled longing.
Bombs, bullets, all the bullets.
"The gunman was..."
Planes falling out of the clear blue sky.
"I moved on her like a bitch..."
Townville, South Carolina—all of fifteen minutes away.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes.
The earth is quaking and we can't stand by any longer and pretend like the storms are happening somewhere out there. They're inside of us.
Numb the pain.
All this loss.
And buried somewhere underneath the rubble—the realization that this world is not our home. I knock unrelenting on heaven's door, pleading.
Where are you?
Have you left us?
My soul yearns.
A thrill of hope.
Our King has come.
Emmanuel, God with us.
The greatest gift of all time in the most unexpected package.
At some point, I remember learning that the people with the palm branches in The Bible had the wrong idea about Jesus. They thought he would save them from Caesar, when really, he came to save them from their sin.
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother—and in his name, all oppression shall cease.
Perhaps there are a handful who know, somehow, somewhere in their souls that nothing would ever be the same again.
He didn't come to make us comfortable. Rather, that in our brokenness, we could be comforted. A holy God saw brokenness as being such an integral part of the human experience that he could not go another moment without putting skin in the game. Jesus didn’t come so that we could climb some corporate ladder or hit it big or simply make ends meet or just do okay or feel high and mighty about our stance on gun control and who can use what bathroom. He didn't come for us to experience the same old stuff on a different day. He didn’t give his life so that we could walk around with the prerecorded response of busy or fine.
He came to become a casualty, to be cast aside, to be spit upon and mocked and denied and sold out and it didn't have to be this way. He took upon himself the punishment that we had coming to us—rescuing us from what we surely deserved.
He came to make Love great again.
We know. We know.
And then he asked us to give our lives as evidence.
Whoever is willing to live in this holy, painful tension—whoever is willing to take up his own cross, to let go of dreams and plans and security and bucket lists in order to be poured out alongside me.
We are broken, and we are broken for each other. We are poured out, and we are poured out for each other. This is the way of the beloved, the way of being transformed to the image of Christ, whose body was broken and poured out for us.
We can be the Aaron's and Hur's, holding one another up. We can be a generation of Esther's who are willing to risk it all to tear down the wall so that all might come in. We can be the peacemakers, the prayer warriors, the 2:00 AM answer on the other end of the phone, the lasagna bringers, the roof rippers, the second mile journeyers, the quiet revolutionaries going about the Father's business.
We can be poured out, because we know that he always gives more.
We are the hearts preparing him room, the hearts who know that he doesn't come in alone, but rather with a host of broken hearts. He touched the sick, broke bread with whores, and called cheats and liars and back stabbers his best friends. He says they're with me. And when I begin to catch glimpses of my own heart in the folks he chose to spend his time with, it changes everything.
We're with him when we stand up for the least and loneliest and the left out—we're the ones who know that when we give the shirts off our backs, we're giving to him.
We keep both eyes fixed, not in idle wait, but active watching for what we know is on the horizon. And we must not grow weary. For at the proper time—at just the right time, harvest season will come. The weary world will rejoice and all will be made well.
Jesus, keep us until that day comes.
So be it.