Second Sunday of Advent

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Hope. Today we relive the hope of the Savior, the answer to all our waiting. 

It is dawn coming after a terrible night. After a night of lying awake hearing the cries of the world in darkness, the earth turns and we see it. Maybe the light will swing back over us. Things will have color again! Oh, we will be able to see the ground we walk on, stop bashing our shins or tripping over tree roots.

Warmth will come to our frozen limbs. We will not have to live in the paralysis of shame.

Why do we have hope? Do we suddenly realize we are all we needed after all? That we have all the strength we need? That we are actually perfect?

No, the voices of the prophets tell us, “He is coming for us.” 

He is like the father of that wasteful son. Running down the road toward us. 

He is coming. All will be well now. Someone is taking care of all of it. Rest, dear one, rest. 

***

A wee taste of what I’m writing over at Patreon this month. Non-daily advent musings for patrons.

The bad place.

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I’ve been in the bad place again. 


The bad place feels like accusation. Lack of permission to exist. Wanting to not exist. 

It feels like self loathing.

Itchy skin.

Tears that won’t stop.

It feels like irrational fear about saying or doing the wrong thing, so much that there is no Rae anymore, only a duffel bag full of fear. A Rae-shaped duffel bag full of fear. 

It feels frozen. Clingy. Desperate. Frantic. Oh anxiety, you old, one-eyed cat.

Coming out of the bad place feels like a bird slowly coming down, down, down and lighting on a branch.

It is driving through tiny alleyways and noticing signs. Reading, writing down words that resonate in a journal. Seeing that the chairs in the optometrist shop are wearing socks. Immediate delight over a sign with the misspelling, “Marry Christmas.” Walking through aisles of yarn or enameled plates. Deciding that now is definitely not the time to try any Christmas shopping. (What are you crazy?)

It is breathing through waves of fear and pain that radiate out of the sternum.

It is reminding myself, “I am allowed to exist.” At stoplights. In bed. While looking for chocolate chips at the bake shop. Anywhere the panic comes. “God sees me. I’m not alone.”

Eating salad. Also sushi.

Looking at the sky.

Thinking about tomorrow and immediately panicking, so stopping that right away. Today is enough to think about. Driving home. The mountains will be cold. Is my coat good enough? Maybe not, it is actually a hoodie, not a coat, why did I say coat? 

The bird tucks its head under its wing for a wee nap. 

Tomorrow will come and I will be here. I am allowed to exist.

***

PS: Mom, don’t worry, I’m okay.

***

PPS: I’ve been sharing a bit of Advent content (not every day because that’s not really my strength set) for Patrons at Patreon. Come check it out if you are interested. xoxo

PPPS: Have you checked out the Shekina Meditation Podcast yet? You should.

Learning to listen.

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Part 1.

I’ve been trying to write this post since I first read the about the tragic killing of Jemel Robersen. I think it hit me hard because of my naive believe that as soon as people learned about police brutality toward black Americans, it would stop. But it hasn’t stopped, and at the same time as seeing our awareness build, there is also a sort of defeat. How will it end?

I went searching for some statistics on mass shootings. Not my normal afternoon exercise, but it seemed important. Specifically I wanted to know how many mass shooters end up in custody rather than dying during the attack. 

Here’s what I have read in these statistics.**

First, police do extraordinary work in subduing and arresting mass shooters—people with weapons who have already used those weapons to kill and injure multiple people. And still somehow, in 90% of cases where the shooter does not kill himself, police manage to take the shooter into custody. Without killing him. In cases where the suspect has a gun, has proven he will use it, and has already taken lives. These are truly difficult situations of high danger, and they have the skills to take people in alive.

But then we have someone like 26-year-old Jemel Robersen, who was killed on duty as a security guard, doing his job as he apprehended a (white) shooter who opened fire in a bar in Chicago. Jemel did his work well, disarming and holding the shooter until police could arrive. He did what he was supposed to do. 

Doing what he was supposed to do didn’t help him be any safer. When police arrived, they saw a black man with a gun and shot him, ignoring the shouts of people around who said, “he’s one of us!” or “he saved us!” He died. The original gunman was taken into custody.

Like many other horrified people, I shared the article on Jemel Roberson on Facebook, and my brother-in-law commented, “The sad part is the culture has always been in the shadows. Now it's in the light. They always have been killing us. It's just on camera now. And they still won't stop.”

They have always been killing us. Here is the hard truth. Even though many police have the skill to de-escalate, black lives are simply worth less than white lives in America. 

White people have always been killing black people. 2 million deaths in the middle passage (slave ships from Africa to enslaving countries). 2 million more African deaths attributed to slavery, a system of profit for white people. It’s how America started. It is poison, and the poison has not been eradicated. 

From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States.  Of these people that were lynched 3,446, 72.7% were black. Other people who were lynched included people who smuggled runaway slaves or were caught helping black people. It was a form of execution without trial. Police shootings are also a form of execution without trial. Young black men are 9 times more likely than any other kind of people to be killed by officers.

They have always been killing us. We have to get rid of this poison. We must. It is poisoning all of us.

Part 2.

Here’s how it goes with black men. A young black man looks “dangerous.” He’s standing around. Sitting at a cafe, doing his job, walking down the street, and someone calls the police. The police come, and don’t use their extraordinary skills of disarming dangerous people with guns. They shoot first.

Here’s how it starts: We (white people) start it by labeling a normal situation dangerous. We call in the authorities for no reason. (He looks suspicious. I don’t think he lives in this neighborhood.) Those men laughing and talking on the corner? Hanging out? Why do we call the police on them? At best it’s harassment. At worst it costs people their lives. 

Our family has not had a visit back to the US in the last five years without some sort of interaction with the police. 

One scary moment happened when we visited a friend. We had gone to a nearby park because the friend’s father and brother-in-law were arguing and he felt it would be better if we left them alone. (Our friend and his father are Asian-American. His brother-in-law is white.) After a while, the brother-in-law ran out of the house shouting, “Call 911, he has a gun!” 

Someone did call 911. We walked to the other side of the park to get far away from the house. But when the officers arrived, they spotted Chinua, and charged out of the car toward him, aiming their guns at him, while he held his hands up, despite the fact that we were nowhere near the house. His friend beside him called and gestured to show the house that the gunman actually was in. The kids and I were only a few feet away. There was a two-second pause while the police considered this, and then they changed course and went to the house where the man was. (It turned out to be a pellet gun.)

We were in the wrong place at the wrong time- the incident had nothing to do with us. But why did they run toward Chinua, despite the many, many people standing around in that park? He was the only black man.


Chinua has been pulled over for nothing more than driving an expensive car. (It was the car he was borrowing from a friend while he spent a month with Ian in the hospital, at the end of Ian’s life.)

He has had special services swarm him for exiting his vehicle during a motorcade. 

When he was a boy, he was surrounded by several police cars and told to get down on the ground because he was running down a sidewalk with his brother. 

Part 3. 


I want to learn to listen well.

I have been on my own journey with race. From my youth in Canada, to meeting and falling in love with Chinua, learning about historical racism on a different level, hearing his stories of his mother’s investigations into police brutality in Los Angeles in the 80’s and 90’s, to current day issues. I know that I have listened as though I was listening to a story that has nothing to do with me. I know that I have refused to acknowledge the reality of racism at times, as though my own sheer optimism (that came from growing up believing that people would listen to me and fight for justice for me) could cover everyone around me. Or have not wanted to acknowledge that I have benefited from a system where white people have the most power. And I am slowly starting to see that not having to think about race is a privilege for white people, how race effects nearly everything in our world and political systems for anyone of color, especially black people in America. 

The other day I sat and listened as a couple of white friends kept brushing off what Chinua said about racism. 

Chinua was talking about cultural misunderstanding as a piece of the problem, an fixable piece. “People see black people talking loudly and think that they are angry, when it’s just the way they talk.” 


“There are differences between everyone,” one said shrugging. “There are differences in cultures between the different regions of my country.”


“But we can learn about cultural differences, rather than calling the police,” Chinua responded.


“What, then we have to learn every culture in the world?” (That would be ridiculous, is the implication.)


White friends, we sometimes respond to the reality serious and tragic injustice toward black people in unkind and disempowering ways. Maybe we’ve tried to say that the problem can’t be as bad as they are making it. Maybe we try to act as though the same kind of thing has happened to us. Sometimes we try to show how much better we are than those other white people. “I have a black friend…”

I have done all of those things, not even realizing just how dangerous it is. Because actually what we need to do is stop talking over black people, stop saying it is all the same, stop saying All Lives Matter (everyone already knows this), stop distracting from the conversation about the dangers that black men and women (and children) face. 


Chinua, my kindhearted, right-living husband, has faced these dangers his whole life. As have his family. As have his people. He has skills in how to diffuse a situation, how to not appear threatening, how to assure white people of their worth even while trying to talk about the real race issues of a people who have historically been enslaved and killed, en masse, by white people. 


Clinging to our sense of the world as a right and good place, where people get ahead because of their worth, or fail because they haven’t tried hard enough, makes us bad at listening. But we have to listen.

Part 4.


So let’s listen. Here are some gentle suggestions from someone who has got it wrong many many times. The next time you’re in a conversation about race, and a black person speaks about how hard things are for them, don’t invalidate, brush off, or diminish what they are saying. Just listen, and then say, “I’m sorry. I haven’t heard about that.” Assume there is a lot you don’t know. Learn to be okay with being uncomfortable. (It’s the least we can do for our friends.) Let’s sit uncomfortably with our race (and its history of oppression) without twitching it off by saying “All lives matter,” or “black people enslaved each other too,” or “there’s such a thing as reverse racism.” Let’s not divert the topic to something more comfortable. Let’s admit to not being able to understand what it feels like to know that you are the most targeted type of person in America. We don’t have to understand. We just have to listen and we have to care.


Race is not all we are. Chinua reminds me that there are many ways to slice the pie. I don’t particularly like being in a slice that is away from my entire immediate family and all my in laws, but I am. I can’t pretend away my privilege because I don’t want to be different. It’s dangerous for my family if I keep insisting the difference doesn’t exist. It’s dangerous for my sons, who are in the 99th percentile of height and weight for their age, and about to become large mixed-race (black) men. In one configuration of our family, I am different. I am not in danger in a way that they are. I am the one who gets out and checks for a camping spot at a KOA in Kansas, because I am less likely to be turned away.

I also have great power to be a good listener, friend and ally. We get to decide who we want to be. Do we want to get rid of this poison? One way to keep it around is to keep it hidden, pretend it isn’t there. 

Let’s be okay with being uncomfortable. The last thing I’ll say to my fellow white followers of Jesus is that this is the kind of thing our faith prepares us for. Repentance, discomfort and pain, weeping with those who weep, remaining quiet in order for others to have a chance to speak at the table—these are all earmarks of our faith, and every one of them ends in what we always have, the mercy and grace of God. Our fairytale kingdoms may fall. Our image of ourselves and our countries or heritage as “completely” good may fall. But nothing can separate us from the love of God. It is safe for false constructions to fall. God will remain, and his love and mercy are for all of us.

Here are some resources: 

The current season of Serial. They did some amazing work of spending time and reporting in one courtroom in Cleveland, and what emerges shows how biased things can be in the judicial system.

 The New Jim Crow and The Color of Law explain a lot about the systemization of oppression and segregation in America. (Disclaimer, I haven’t read them. They’re on my list.)

13th, a Netflix documentary about unpaid inmate labor in America.

**Of the 107 shooting sprees that Mother Jones records between 1982 and 2018, 61 were carried out by white people. 17 by black people. (The rest were a mixture of Latino, Asian, Native American, and Unclear.) 

Of those 61 white people, 32 died by suicide. Of those who didn’t shoot themselves, 21 were taken into custody, 8 killed by police. 

Of the 11 black shooters who didn’t kill themselves, 5 were taken in, 6 killed by police. 

(Mother Jones marks shootings that are spree-like, have 3 or more fatalities and often many more injuries.) 

How it goes.

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I always start my days with writing.

I’m working on a new project, one I will tell you about soon. It’s a new series of books and at first I thought I would write under a pen name, but I have decided to accept the tangle of genres that I write, and publish these books as myself.

My plan is to finish the first draft of the book I am working on and then jump right into the first draft of World Whisperer Book 5. It’s helpful to work on something different in between, actually. It’s like the ginger in between bites of sushi.

After I write new words in the morning, I move into writing blog posts or newsletters. I’m working on a couple doozies of blog posts now, so I go into those documents and fix a few things, add a few lines, try to make them live a little more, then write a few lines of a newsletter. I am easily overwhelmed. I do my best writing little bits. 

Then Isaac waltzes into the studio and it’s time to get up and shift gears, to get him some breakfast and make sure the clothes he’s wearing are somewhat suitable. To make sure the other kids are getting ready for the day, eating, drinking tea, finding their school books. Isaac goes off to school and other kids come over for readalouds and English class. Or maybe Chinua handles that and I go off to guide meditation. Or it is a gardening day at Shekina, so I buy some plants and drive around the hill to plant them.

The day is in full swing. It careens around until bedtime, when I lie flat on my back staring at the ceiling, or when I fall asleep lying next to Isaac, his warm little arm around my neck. 

Often, these days, when I’m driving on the motorbike, I get lured away. After I bring Isaac to school, I might find that I need to see the sky from a different direction, or the view from the next hill. The sky is so perfectly blue. The branches so jagged and they reach, reach as far as they can. The road bakes in the sun and the breezes lift my hair off my neck, and I am reminded of beautiful days and years from the past, and all of it is almost too much. 

Eventually I come back home, to joke and puns and boys with springs in their legs. We comb through tangly bits of offenses and hurt feelings from siblings. We dance. We make a lot of messes. I can be grumpy and easily overwhelmed. And there is so much love. Love and words and blue skies. I am thankful.

Influence.

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Well it’s raining, and I’m working on a long post about empathy, and another about fear, but those posts take time, so here is one in the interim. 

I’m always thankful for a little late season rain. It means the garden continues to thrive a little longer without our efforts at watering. Because once the weather here is dry, it’s really, really dry. We human garden-tenders need to be very diligent with our care.

Last night I was reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to the boys, and we got to the part where spring starts to return. Isaac turned to me with big eyes and said, “It’s like Shekina Garden now, but without a sala or a workshop.” It made me think of how it must feel for a little guy like Isaac to spend so much time in a garden like the one we have, with a beautiful food forest at the back, grassy space, spaces to hide. As an adult I adore it and also think about what needs to be done. “Mm, that corner is weedy, those look dry, the front needs to be replanted.” But for Isaac it is just magical.

Kai is doing well at school, and by well I mean he is meeting the challenges and plowing ahead. He’s a brave man-sized kid. It’s good to see him doing hard things and finding a way through. We also miss him like crazy. Our family dynamic has shifted, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a weird thing. (Chinua says I use the word weird too much. Chinua is probably right.)

The world is full of fire and anger, and into it we bring our own little globes of influence. Sometimes I am careless with my globe—I don’t keep it safe, I let it fill with fear and stress, and people who walk into it accidentally get smacked around by fear and stress too. This happens when I’m frustrated with endless documents and tasks, things that make me question the purpose of life. When I’m most successful with my little globe, it is full of love and acceptance, empathy and curiousity. I want it to be kind. Even when things are changing, and I don’t always understand the change or how quick it comes.

Our individual lives add up. Our globes of influence overlap and form large spaces.

This morning I have some chapters to read so I can teach English class with the kids who come over to learn with us. I will take the motorbike to the market and buy food for a community dinner. I will read aloud to kids from a book about Mother Teresa and a book about Sharazhad telling her stories. I will tell one of the kids to take Wookie for a walk and think again about how I need to make a chore schedule. I will not make a chore schedule. I will kiss Isaac before he heads off to school. I will help Solo with his math. Later I have a community meeting. Then dinner at my house. My globe of influence. What will it feel like to stand next to me today? Like standing next to a volcano, uneasy and unsure? Or like being in a wide space, where anything is possible? 

This is what it means to try to live a whole, God-filled life. To try to be all that he has made you, to walk around easy in the knowledge of being loved and not being fearful that anyone can take it away. It is contagious. From that space, that globe of influence, where we are influenced by God’s ways, the sacrificial extravagance of Jesus, rather than fearful self-protection, we really can do anything. It’s a life-long journey, I know. It’s one I am committed to, though I fail all the time.