What Listening to Ferguson Has Taught This White Mama

Note: I wrote this as a guest post for That Reformed Blog on August 25, 2014. It is only becoming more true.

This is my daughter AJ. She was born in Ethiopia, and we adopted her when she was just a baby. Here’s she’s holding the first picture of her we ever received.

AJreferralversary6

Every year we send our adoption agency a post-adoption report which includes photos from the past year. I had to finish ours a couple weeks ago, so I sat down at the computer to gather them, but before I got far, I drifted over to Twitter. I saw what some folks were up to, followed some links, and caught up on the events just beginning to unfold in Ferguson, MO. And I saw: #Iftheygunnedmedown.

I bawled my eyes out.

Suddenly looking through those pictures felt like finding photos for a funeral memory board.

What if something happened to her—because she’s black?
How long until she’s not always with me and someone finds her suspicious or scary?
Is she going to hear about this at school? Is she going to wonder if she can trust the police? I
want to tell her she can  . . . but when do I need to tell her to be careful?

If you’ve never had to worry that because of race, you or your child will be treated differently in some way—disrespected, suspected, insulted, or injured—that might seem paranoid to you, but I assure you, such thoughts eventually cross the mind of every parent of a brown-skinned child. Though as a middle-class white woman I carry an enormous amount of privilege in our society, in this one small area, I can attest: it sucks to have to worry about these things. It affects how you see things. It can wreck you.

Yet too often we don’t take the time to look around us and see who might be affected by events before taking sides on them. Most of my friends didn’t even realize I was upset, because I was afraid to tell them for fear of being dismissed or hurt, because it seemed the whole internet had erupted into arguments while what some of us really needed was first just to be sad. Could you not grieve with me one hour, before taking sides?

Because one of my primary (unhealthy) ways of processing events is obsessive reading of everything the internet has to say about them, I hit Twitter hard. Some things were difficult to read, but I learned so much by listening to the voices out of Ferguson—so much about me and about us, as a country and particularly as Christians. I’d like to offer a few:

1. We don’t grieve together (or process, celebrate, or learn together) because we don’t “do life” together. It is difficult to stay mindful that others may be feeling different and having a different reaction to things than we are unless we regularly rub shoulders in community, dare to share our perspectives, and listen, listen, listen. I intentionally read a number of black bloggers and culture sites—but that is not enough. It is much harder but much more necessary to live in cross-cultural relationships. I have a long, long way to go in diversifying the voices in my life so that I can better understand their perspectives and my own privilege.

2. We can learn a lot from history, and we can see its effects today. Events do not happen in a vacuum, and our reactions to them are influenced by our histories and experiences. I learned an immense amount this week from others’ work shedding light on Dred Scott and black bodies, housing segregation, voting systems, government funding sources, media portrayals, dog whistles, and so much more. One could read all day.

3. Conflict shows us who we really are. We can choose today which side of history we want to be on when the future looks back. People often romanticize the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and speak as though of course they would have been fighting discrimination. When my daughter or grandson asks me someday, “Were you paying attention when the events in Ferguson happened? How did you feel? What did you do?” my answer will shaped by what I learn and do today. I want to be able to tell them I was watching and I decided to do what I could to make our cities, country, and churches better—and I want that to be the truth. As Alan Cross said, “What if the conflict that might happen in your city is the moment that God has placed you there for so you can tell a better story and be a witness to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful? What if you hesitate and the moment is gone?”

4. Little voices together can make a big noise. It is estimated that a black person is killed by a police officer, security guard, or vigilante once every 28 hours. Most of us know few of their names. But Mike Brown’s name is known because of social media (which attracted mainstream media) and because of individuals who literally stood in the streets until they were heard. Out of the brokenness of losing him, by the grace of God, good things may yet come: The people of Ferguson are going to get a better police force. Ferguson and other cities will equip their officers with body cameras. Ferguson community organizers are aiming to get 5,000 eligible voters registered and involved to change some of the local policies which are burdening their poor and black residents. The use of military grade equipment by local police is being reviewed. People are talking about free speech, poverty, disproportionate arrests and sentencing, profiling, and education. Each one of these issues and more represents an opportunity for positive change.

What change is your voice going to call for? Yes, you. You might not be a preacher or a writer. But you have conversations about hard things, and your voice can change the tone and content of that conversation. And if it can change a conversation, it can change a workplace, or a church, or a board, and so on across our cities and our nation. We won’t all be passionate about speaking out about the same things—but we all can speak up for something and someone.

5. The world is watching the church. A national broadcaster tweeted that the deep conversation about race he observed between white and black Christians on the street was “Christianity at its best.” I’ve heard the gospel in interviews with pastors about their work and presence in Ferguson before and during the unrest—work they’ll be doing long after. Clergy from various denominations have been hailed for their powerful presence easing tensions between protestors and police. Clergy and police are now working together to help those whose lives have been disrupted by the events.

Unfortunately, a lot of racial misunderstanding and anger is also showing itself now, and too much of it is associated with Christianity. We may agree or disagree about some things, but we must say clearly, loudly, and repeatedly that the voices of hate and separation do not speak for Jesus, and they do not speak for us. We must back that up with actions that speak louder than others’ vitriolic words.

6. We already have leaders to show us the way forward. Although many black Christians felt the Christian response was slow in coming, a few evangelical leaders stepped to the plate early, and numerous bloggers/writers/pastors of color have written gut-wrenchingly honest reflections and pleas for understanding of their perspective and for the church to unite to stand against racial injustice everywhere: read some here, here, here, and here. They have already been asking and answering (many of them for a long time), “What can we do about these issues?”

I initially thought I should attempt to answer that question here, to provide a sense of hope and means of action. But the reality is, others are already illuminating the way forward. I would simply encourage us to followto let those who have long been living with these issues point the way, while we first listen, then stand alongside. These may be different voices than some of us usually listen to, and we may not agree with them on everything, or even many things. But to understand an issue, it is always wise to start with those who have lived it—and that means, sorry, white American church, but this one is not about us. But you know what? A new humility and unity may just be the thing that saves our churches from irrelevance in the eyes of many. That’s good news for the spread of the Good News!

As we move out of the turmoil of fast-moving events, may we take a deep breath, filled with grace from God and for each other; may we rest in the peace of Jesus, offered freely to the grieving and the angry, the marginalized and the powerful, the black and the white; and may we step forward together in unity, that all the world may say, “Blessed are those peacemakers. I want to know their Lord.”

 

I’d love to hear your feedback and links to more voices in the comments. Let’s keep learning together.

Coming Out of the Dark

Note: I wrote this on February 27, 2014.

Coming Out of the Dark

Today is the one-year anniversary of our nightmare and our miracle.

On February 27, 2013, Aaron prepared for surgery for his third consecutive retinal detachment in his only working eye. He had already spent the majority of the past four months blind, or nearly so, and forced to sit, sleep, eat, and walk with his head down, face parallel to the floor, while a gas bubble held his healing retina in place. Except that it wasn’t working. Fluid was entering his eye again and would soon cause a fresh tear in his fragile retina. It was a fresh tear in our hearts.

For months he had endured—darkness, stiffness, pain, isolation, helplessness, dependence—propelled only by the hope that this obedience would make the difference, would save his right eye unlike the surgeries on his left eye when he was a teenager and did not follow these rules. Each day he sat alone, all day, save visits from friends to give him shots or help with meals. He lived on phone calls and text messages read by Siri and coffee drunk through a straw because he could not so much as tip back a mug and casseroles from church folks and the asiago cheese bagels my mother kept bringing to fill her own need to do something, anything.

As he sat, I ran, in frantic circles, overwhelmed by keeping up with work and after-school arrangements and care calendars and appointments and the neverending dishes he used to do so religiously and well-meaning questions with no answers to give but wait-and-sees and hopefullys and those damn, damn unknowns.

All of November. All of December. Most of January. Now February . . . and this last wound seemed worst than the first, for the doctor gave up hope that another gas bubble would work and planned for this third surgery to use silicone oil to fill the eye. It would not require the facedown positioning but also would not go away—it would be left in indefinitely, leaving Aaron able to see only what he could see through the oil, which we doubted with his already damaged eye would be much of anything.

It felt like a theft. Aaron’s vision had been improving, but because of the encroaching fluid, on Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. the doctor was going to take it away. He was going to make my husband functionally blind, to save some of his sight. Continue reading Coming Out of the Dark

Living Our Papa’s Epilogue

These are the words I shared at the funeral of my grandfather, who left us on December 15, 2013, after ninety-two years writing his story on this earth. If ever we get a chance, let me tell you about my grandfather…

Once upon a time there was a man we called Papa, and he was a storyteller.

When we were little and we would go over to his house, we would climb all over him in his chair that he always sat in and demand a story. Sometimes he would read one to us, but usually he would make one up. Our favorites were his creative tales about two fleas named Itchy and Scratchy who lived on a dog and had all kinds of adventures, like going to the circus. And I think he would make up stories that seemed suspiciously familiar, like something about a little girl and a little boy, brothers and sisters, who lived on a farm, or visited their grandparents, or went camping, or whatever fit at the time. He would also sing us songs, like “Home on the Range.”

Our storyteller Papa would also tell us many family favorite stories, like things my mom and Nancy did when they were little girls. A classic was the story of how they put fake plastic dog vomit on the floor, and when he came home he got so mad at that dog and went and got a mop and bucket of water and tried to clean it up before he realized the kids were playing a joke on him!

Of course Papa had many stories from his PT boat days in World War II. He’d tell us about life in the small quarters of the ship, their daring escapes, singing songs at midnight on Christmas Eve on the ship, and our favorite, the one about the guy who was hanging off the side of the boat when it suddenly took off full speed, and no one knew he was hanging on back there for dear life.

Maybe the only thing he liked talking about more than his PT boat days and buddies was his four grandchildren. I can only imagine the ears he would bend when we first came along and passed through childhood milestones and did all those funny things kids do. I’m not sure who actually found it for them, but we were all so tickled one year when when were little and we found Grandma and Papa the perfect gift to put on the front of their travel trailer that they would spend summers camping in—a front license plate that said, “Let me tell you about my grandchildren!” We just knew Papa was already doing that wherever he went, probably whether he was asked or not.

And of course his favorite story of all time—and ours too—is the incredible love story Laura calls The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room. He told it to her so many times over the last couple years that she could retell it for you almost word for word, and maybe she will. Of course it is the story of how he met our grandma, Hazel. And it ended with how she stayed so beautiful even when a lot of the other women he knew turned into, quote, “some real bow-wows.”

It’s that love story that brought us here today, because that love has been passed on through the family to Don and Hazel’s children, our moms, who passed it on to us, and who made sure we’re all here today to remember that love and honor it and take up the legacy of this incredible man.

Every great story leaves you thinking about what happens next, and sometimes you get what’s called an epilogue to give you a peek into how it all turned out after the main story comes to a close. Our Papa’s story has an epilogue, and it says: Don Bujold loved his wife Hazel for sixty-seven years, in sickness and in health. Together they had two daughters, one son, four grandchildren, and so far three great-grandchildren.

We are all the rest of the story. We are living the epilogue. And I hope and pray that we live it well.

Thank you for being part of the story, and part of this day.

“Pastor Aaron” (and a Summary)

“Pastor Aaron.”

That’s what some people have been calling that guy who lives with me. And they don’t even seem to be joking.

And it’s true–it’s really, really true!

Aaron has accepted a call to a church in Grand Rapids.* He will be ordained on Sunday, August 26 at 4:00 p.m. at the new church. Come one come all! I’m sure to be a blubbering mess of tears, plus there’ll be cake or equivalent delights.

He got the call about the call just before we moved from Tuliptown to GR, but it worked out better to do ordination after our impending trip to Oregon and for Aaron’s first official Sunday to be September 2 9. He did preach a week as pulpit supply, so we were able to go to the church again a few weeks ago. We’ve begun putting names and faces and relatives together, finding out who’s been googlestalking us (Hi Steve!), confusing ourselves and others by our temporary confusion about what place we mean when we say “our church,” and getting to know a few people (Hi again and thanks, Steve and fam!). Aaron has been starting on sermon prep and meeting with a few people too. He has however, been instructed by Classis not to work too hard, since it’s a part-time position. Take up your cross and follow but be sure to take frequent water breaks, or something like that.

We were a bit frustrated/disappointed when we tried to find a house to rent near the church and just couldn’t. So we are staying here near our church our old church Fourth Church and our good friends, where the rent is low and the floors are hardwood and hey, the neighbors only have 22 cats; that seems reasonable. Seriously, though, the house will work out fine for this year, and we’ll see how things look in the spring/summer. Friends as neighbors has been such a blessing (especially for Aaron who has been home with little miss whatcanIdoooooo? every day).

What else? Let me explain. No, is no time. Let me sum up (copied from a hasty email to a friend, so pardon the complete lack of editorial correctness!):

  • we moved out of Red Bricks into house by our (current/”old” church), on the hottest day possible
  • we looked for a house to rent closer to the church but were frustrated, could not find one that was decent for a semi-reasonable price, so we decided to forget it and stay here until spring/summer when it seems the rentals all turn over b/c of all the students…and we will see how it is going w/ the church too
  • so we finally started to unpack and settle in
  • and I narrowly avoiding killing anyone as it was 90s and humid practically every day and we have no air except a window unit we got working just in time (no way could I survive in Florida, sorry!)
  • Aaron had his meeting/interview with Classis
  • they finally set ordination service date–August 26
  • so I moved up our return from Oregon by a day, to the 24th!
  • work has continued to be busy busy esp since I will be gone for 2 full weeks after this week, for the trip to Oregon–I am going to a writer’s conference with my acquisitions mentor, then vacationing w/ the fam in our old town, plus up to WA to see friends
  • I had a good 6 inches cut off Anna’s hair because it was all just too much to manage (seriously probably 15 inches long). it’s short! but cute. she had it straightened for the first time when cut which was adorable and she loved it–but it lasted only hours b/c she was out an about with my mom in super humidity and I think some water splashing may have been involved and it went POOF! poor dear never even got to show it off.
  • and my parents bought a cottage up north! so we went up last week for a few days. It is a nice place on a quiet little lake near Sleeping Bear Dunes–heavenly!!!
  • Aaron’s first official Sunday as a pastor(!) is Sept 2 9.

That cover about 90 percent of the crazy. But are we ready for . . . church crazy? Yep, here I am, send me . . . the pastor’s wife?!?!?!

See you at ordination, I hope, if by then you’ve stopped laughing.

 

* I’m not sure yet if I’ll name the church on this blog. Maybe it needs a nickname. The MaxwellHouse of Worship?

 

Fifteen

I’m lucky I’m in love with my best friend

Lucky to have been where we have been

Lucky to be coming home again

Lucky we’re in love in every way

Lucky to have stayed where we have stayed

Lucky to be coming home someday

June 21, 1997

Lucky Blessed together – fifteen years!

Lyrics: Jason Mraz, “Lucky”

You Gotta Let Me Know, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Never (Think about What You’re Doing Because Then You’d) Say Never–As soon as Aaron got off the crazy train of his seminary workload, it was time for me to take it for a spin. I have been hammering out a very special, very insanely rushed work project (although it has dragged out weeks longer than originally expected). I’m not going to disclose what it is here, but I will say that we expect sales to go, ahem, Nowhere but Up. It’s been unpredictable, but it’s exciting. I like the pressure. I’ll be let out of quarantine when this Fever breaks . . .

Adventures in Pre-Homelessness–We have to be out of seminary housing by July 8 (got a week extension). A lot still has to be packed, but more pressing is that we don’t actually know where we’re moving to. We’re trying to avoid moving someplace we don’t want to stay (i.e., not by whatever church we end up at), moving someplace we can’t afford (if a church job doesn’t come through), or moving twice. But we may end up doing the latter to avoid the former, since the clock is ticking and . . .

I Want You to Want Me–We are at an awkward place with our housing situation especially because we think we might be close to being able to commit to a place we’d really like . . . but first we’ve got to get a (certain) church to commit to us. But are they as close to a decision as we are to being house-less? You never know for sure when committees are involved. . .

Ironic songs playing on my iPod–“I Want You to Want Me,” “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” “The Waiting Is the Hardest Part”