Evicted

It is the custom at my school, like so many others, to ask incoming students to participate in a “Summer Read”- a common text that lays the foundation for the institution’s common/general education/freshman seminar. One of the unique things here is that we also have a senior level common seminar course that reads the same text as first year students. Half our campus participates in reading the same book and then we welcome the author to campus for public and class lectures.

FullSizeRender-2This year’s common read is “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond. To be perfectly honest, it’s gut-wrenching. In all of our cultural conversations about poverty- from food insecurity, to access to health insurance, to educational opportunities- the epidemic of eviction simply gets left out of the equation when it ought to be the starting place. Professor Desmond asserts in his epilogue, “Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.” (299)

It’s worth pointing out that the snapshot of evictions he presents takes place between May and 2008 and December 2009- the heart of the housing crisis and recession. And yet it wouldn’t surprise me if little to nothing has changed; particularly amidst stagnant wages and the constant attacks on the social programs that can literally save lives.

There’s a troubling voyeuristic aspect to the book. Professor Desmond takes us into a world of pain and hardship and poverty in a way that is honest to a fault and I feel a little uncomfortable being there. Which is perhaps the point. I can’t help but be desperately aware of my privilege to simply read about it. The ease with which he describes bug infestation and drug use and prostitution and unsanitary living conditions right here in what claims to be the wealthiest nation in the world is overwhelming at times. And yet he offers a glimpse of the reality of the lives our neighbors are living and we must hear him. Additionally, he has the courage to offer a solution that isn’t out of the realm of possibility- though I can imagine what members of a certain political party would say to his recommendation.

Now to figure out how to get my students to actually read it.

Mailliot Jaune

The Yellow Jersey. It’s a gold medal, it’s a checkered flag, it’s breaking the tape, and hoisting the cup. In the Tour de France it marks the over all race leader throughout the three week event. It’s the guy who’s strong and fast and gutsy and has a great team and is a little nutso. But I’ve noticed something in watching the coverage this year: The rider wearing the yellow jersey goes from being a person and a team member with strengths and weaknesses to being an object.

Whether it’s been Geraint Thomas or Chris Froome or Fabio Aru they cease to be their names and become just the jersey. Protect the jersey; lead out the jersey; pull along the jersey; the jersey attacks. It’s been bothering me. Kind of a lot.

I asked my partner about it, as he knows quite a bit more about bike racing than I do, and he immediately said “well yeah, it’s an asset”- and it wasn’t clear whether he meant the jersey or the person. And that’s exactly what seems to happen, one goes from being a person to a thing, a teammate to an asset, an opponent to a target.

Dehumanizing happens in every aspect of our culture. It’s the print advertisements that cut off the model’s head because it simply doesn’t matter. It’s the euphemisms that have worked their way into our every day language- like collateral damage or enhanced interrogation method or illegal alien. Dehumanizing separates, divides, and even grants tacit approval for violence. It makes being racist, able-ist, and sexist that much easier.

We must live in a world that actively chooses to see one another’s humanity first and foremost; until we collectively make that commitment I’m quite certain our national and global rancor will get worse not better.

I know it’s just a jersey and just a figure of speech and just a sporting event. Except it’s far more than “just”. It’s also the ways dehumanization slips into our every day speech patterns and grants permission for us to not have to see the struggles and joys and pain and triumphs of those with whom we share our common humanity. So I will commit to saying well done Geraint Thomas, well done Fabio Aru, well done Chris Froome, wear your yellow with pride, but know that I see you for far more than just what sits on your shoulders.

Joys of Homeownership

Regular readers of this here little corner of the internet (Hi, momma!) may remember the great roof saga of last year. It was ugly, it was expensive, it was ultimately totally doable. Well today’s adventure in homeownership is a new air-conditioner. This transition hasn’t been nearly as ugly or stressful. I’ve known for quite some time that my unit was struggling to keep up with Florida heat and humidity, but my own relatively high tolerance for those things has made it a less pressing issue than it may have been.

But a few weeks ago, graduation day, in fact, we came home from post graduation festivities and both the outside unit and the air-handler in the attic had frozen. They simply couldn’t keep up. Right on schedule, my meltdown ensued, right on schedule. After a nice long rest, the a/c came back (and after a few beers and some time in the pool with friends, so did I). We had it looked at and the bad news came. Not only is the unit too small for the house, but it’s old and dying and sad.

So that brings us to today– new air conditioner day! I find myself sitting in a strange space- I am profoundly grateful that this transition is happening with relative ease. I’m not coming home to a 92 degree house and an emergency replacement; while it’s terribly expensive, I’m not having to choose which bills I can pay this month; and despite the anxiety and inconvenience I am reminded of the remarkable privilege of simply getting it done. And yet, I don’t want to do it- I don’t want to hang out as the house gets hotter through the day; I don’t want to pay for it; I don’t want to think about it.

Michael and I have a rule that only one of us has to “adult” at a time, but if we’re totally honest, I think we’re ready for a bit of a break.

Oh wait… the termite guy is here…

Doing My Homework

As vice-moderator of my presbytery I sit on what we call the “coordinating team”, along with major committee chairs, the current moderator, the most recent moderator, and then our clerk and executive- that we call the coach and coordinator. A few meetings ago we were given a book by said coach and coordinator and told to read it. She doesn’t often give us homework, but I sure do like getting books as surprise presents, so on both accounts I finished it.

The book is called Waking Up White: Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. Essentially it’s a memoir of her journey toward “wokeness”- as the kids are saying these days. Irving is a middle-aged, white, straight, cis-gender woman from New England with seemingly liberal politics and throughout the book she comes to terms with the ways her background instilled in her the notion of being a “good girl” and the very particular connotations of not rocking the boat or causing trouble that go along with that.

It’s a lovely read and most helpfully includes a question at the end of each short chapter for reflection on one’s own privilege, power, white supremacy, and experiences of race and racism. (So if you’re the sort of person who finds themselves needing to pull together a book group, this might be a really powerful option…)

In her closing paragraphs she offers these thoughts:

I can’t give away my privilege. I’ve got it whether I want it or not. What I can do is use my privilege to create change. … Self examination and the courage to admit to bias and unhelpful inherited behaviors may be our greatest tools for change. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to exposer our ignorance and insecurities takes courage. And love. I believe the most loving thing a person, or a group of people, can do for another is to examine the ways in which their own insecurities and assumptions interfere with others’ ability to thrive. Please join me in opening your heart and mind to the possibility that you- yes, even well-intentioned you- have room to change and grow, so that you can work with people of all colors and ethnicities to co-create communities that can unite, strengthen, and prosper. (Irving, Debby. p 249)

I don’t know that I would have thought this book applied to me- not because I don’t always have learning to do about my own racist tendencies and privilege- but because Debby Irving isn’t my usual kind of activist. But what she describes above is exactly the kind of work I’d like the institutions I’m most closely involved with to undertake. This is what I want for my church and my college. It’s what I want for my neighborhood and my country. And so for today, I’m particularly glad that my presbytery is beginning to engage in this conversation and that I’m still a person who does my homework- especially when it involves being given a book.

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Resist the Pull

So I got a haircut today, which next to therapy (which also happened this week) is just the best thing ever. The same guy has been cutting my hair for nearly seven years and he’s wonderful. Typically I don’t trust people who don’t have curly hair, but I trust Frank.

One of the great things about our relationship is that there’s not a lot of pressure to talk. He gets talked at for a living; I get talked at for a living; so early on we decided only necessary talking for us. No need to fill the space. Our days have enough talking.

Frank also knows what I do; he understands the rhythms of my year and the challenges and hard realities of my job. Usually this manifests itself in his taking a careful read of my body language before asking me how I’m doing when I first walk in- I’ve been known to burst into tears because it’s been a terrible week. It also means he knows the importance of a May haircut- this is stress relief as much as basic hair maintenance.

So he’s cutting my hair today and he just finished asking me how many days were left in the semester. There was a pause in the conversation and he very calmly said “resist the pull”. My mind started reeling- resist what pull? The pull to check out before it was over? The pull of student’s stress and anxiety? The pull to buy problems that aren’t mine? OF WHAT PULL DOES HE SPEAK?? WHAT DO I RESIST?!

And again he said “resist the pull”. That’s when I realized he was cutting some layers in the back and he needed me to move my head forward while he pulled the hair back. Perhaps I ought to just resist the pull of over-complicating things and enjoy the damn haircut.

Well done.

My whole life my mom has said that “while God may love all of us the same, when their time on this earth is through the people God likes the best get to go quickly.” I’m quite sure she’s right. As we learned yesterday of our friend, brother, and colleague Jeff Krehbiel’s death I was even more sure.

Jeff served his family, his community, and his church faithfully and well. And while our grief feels overwhelming, I find comfort in how little he suffered. I find comfort that I am surrounded by my church in this ash heap. And I find comfort that he has joined the great cloud of witnesses where pain and oppression and injustice have no place.

My friend Neely and I have taken it upon ourselves to rank the the place settings of the heavenly banquet- for reference Justice Scalia is far from the dessert table. I’m quite certain Jeff has taken his seat near the dessert, near the guac, near the craft beer, and near the great saints of justice.

Well done good and faithful servant. May your life continue to be a blessing.

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Women’s Work

It seems as though hardly a week goes by without some article flitting across my social media radar detailing some such study about the extra work women do- in the home, parenting, and at work. That fact that these studies almost always talk about white, heterosexual, partnered women is a different frustration for a different day. But these studies often go into great detail about the expectations around women’s tasks- from recognizing that toilet paper needs to be added to the shopping list, to what Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg described as “Office Housework” in a 2015 New York Times article that has clearly not escaped my memory.

And then we come to Easter morning. Perhaps an odd jump- except we’re back to the women. It was those women- Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, Mary- Jesus’ own mother- the very same women who had stood watch on Friday while the disciples deserted him- who rose early on the first day of the week. It was those women, the few whose names we know, but whose stories and the fullness of their roles have mostly been lost to those who didn’t think they were important enough to include; those were the women who rose early to take spices to prepare the body. It was Mary Magadalene- who the church would later brand whore, who recognized him in the garden. It was the women who ran back to the upper room and proclaimed him risen.

In a society and certainly a church that continues to undervalue women, and especially in those traditions and denominations where they are told they have no place, no voice, no authority- let us particularly remember this morning that it was the women. It was the women who in the midst of their grief and disbelief, rose early, and did the work society expected of them and in doing so preached the Gospel for the very first time.

But seriously, can’t a girl get a break?

He Qi

Wise and Forgiven

I spent all day thinking about “wise”. And it just kept foiling me at every turn. I simply wasn’t sure what I thought about it; wasn’t sure about an angle or a reflection. And then after a 13 hour work day, that wasn’t always super easy, the day ended with no blog post. Nothing to say about “wise”. And there was a bit of guilt and a bit of a sense of failure.

Then I came in this morning and looked at today’s word and found “forgiven”. Oh ReThinkChurch. You are wily.

Lenten disciplines are great. They keep us focused on the season, they are commitments we make to ourselves and to our faith practice and that’s wonderful. I love a good Lenten discipline. But without the grace that comes when we fall off the wagon or mess up or forget or get too busy, without the forgiveness around which this entire season is focused, what’s the point?

So yeah, nothing about wise yesterday- but a whole lot about forgiven today. Perhaps that’s the wisdom at the end of the day.

Also, the upside to a long crappy day at the office is that it includes this:

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It’s really a lovely place, even when the days are too long. 

 

 

*The good folks at ReThinkChurch offer a word of the day for Lent. The idea is mark the 40 days of Lent with a photo corresponding to the word. You can find the complete list and more info on the project here.

Celebrate*

If Lent is meant to be a season of fasting and penitence before the great feast season of Easter it would seem a little odd to place a word like “celebrate” in the midst of it. Except we are always, even in the midst of Lent, Easter people.

I struggled a little through my first Lent in seminary. And while I’m not entirely sure what brought on the conversation, I will remain forever grateful that one of my preaching professors, Chuck Campbell, took time that early spring to remind me that even in the midst of Lent we celebrate mini-Easter’s every Sunday. That each new Lord’s Day we remember that we are first and foremost people who celebrate an empty cross and an empty tomb. We are Easter people- always.

Or in the words of the great Truvy Jones- Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion. (Steel Magnolias)

 

 

*The good folks at ReThinkChurch offer a word of the day for Lent. The idea is mark the 40 days of Lent with a photo corresponding to the word. You can find the complete list and more info on the project here.

Treasure*

What is that we treasure? What is that we lift up? Or cling to? What do we actually treasure? And how do we talk about it?

Yesterday I got a little surprise in my change:

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I’m just not sure what to think of it. I’m sure I agree with the sentiments expressed, but I’m less sure about the method of expression. Is this an evangelism tool? Just a friendly reminder? Or is it a really thoughtful bit of social commentary on the ways we’ve idolized money in our culture? Maybe the author is trying to convince us to rethink the way we’ve turned consumerism and consumption into our cultural religious practice?

At the end of the day, what we treasure and how we talk about it and share it matters enormously. That’s the beauty of Lent. It asks us about what we hold dear and what we’re willing to give up or change that we might be a little more faithful or a little more thoughtful or a little more intentional.

I’m not sure I totally “get” the message on my dollar bill, but regardless of the intent it’s a helpful reminder about what we value and how we show it.

 

 

*The good folks at ReThinkChurch offer a word of the day for Lent. The idea is mark the 40 days of Lent with a photo corresponding to the word. You can find the complete list and more info on the project here.