Psalm 27:3b

"My heart will not fear..." (Psalm 27:3b, NIV)

#LessFearIn2016... Leads to... #FearLessIn2016... Leads to... #Fearless

Oh, the irony...



Sunday, March 19, 2017

Who May Drink from this Well?

Rather than re-post, here's the link to my commentary on the gospel passage for this week, found at "A Plain Account":

 
John 4:5-42




Also, I had the opportunity to discuss this with Ben and Danny at "A Plain Account," last week.  The YouTube video can be found here:

APA, Episode 58

L.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Constructive Criticism



I recently had the privilege of presenting a paper at the Wesleyan Philosophical Society meeting at Asbury Theological Seminary.  When I received the message that informed me my paper had been accepted, I vacillated between ridiculous levels of excitement and being quite sure I was going to vomit.  There’s some history to that.  As an introvert, I do pretty well when I have a platform, and this was surely a platform.  It’s been a long time since I would describe myself as ‘shy,’ but every single time I speak publicly; I do remember what it felt like to drop out of high school speech class and to take my college speech requirement online!  Public speaking used to be painstakingly difficult for me.  I’m used to it now, but it can still be daunting in specific circumstances.

I am also sort of ‘slow to warm.’  I may have written a little bit about this in a post about the last conference I attended.  It doesn’t take me an inappropriately vast amount of time to get comfortable with my surroundings, but it can take several hours or maybe even an entire day.  If I’m referring to a place or event or group of people with which/whom there will be an ongoing relationship; a few hours is no big deal.  Conferences are weird, though.  They only last so long. The faster I can get comfortable, the better, especially if I’m going to take the stage on day 1!

I had several petty concerns (note to self, wearing false nails and pants that are covered in glitter might be something to reconsider in the future) and one significantly important one (note to self, if PowerPoint matters, it’s time to get an Apple device, because no one has adapters for PC!).  But, all of that worked out alright.  What seemed, perhaps, insurmountable was the fact that the papers before mine were incredibly academic in nature.  I’m not sure what I expected, but the more I think about it; I simply did not know what to expect.  It was my first academic conference.  I got the distinct impression that most people do not present at their first academic conference.  It was an honor.  And it was OK that I had no idea what I was doing!

All of the feedback I received was positive. 

“You did a great job.” 

“You hit it out of the park.”  Really?

“Your paper resonated… was enjoyable… etc…”

“It’s obvious that you’ve done a lot of public speaking.” (Cue choking on my drink.)

“Thanks for your paper.”  (Wait… maybe that’s the line you say when there is nothing else to say…  I heard it once…)

For the most part, I replied with, “Thank you,” but I did select a few key people with whom to lean toward self deprecation (because I knew, for sure, my paper was less than academic!).  I did this, because as much as I appreciate compliments, I am also always looking for constructive criticism that will help me to do better… to be better… next time.

So, upon proclaiming, “Thank you, but next time I’ll know to write something more academic, use more sources, etc.,” I did notice a slight shift in our conversations.

Let me reiterate, it was slight.

Now I heard things like, “Sure… but it was great for a first paper.”

“Yes… but it’s great that you got to present your first time here!”

“Actually, it was kind of refreshing.”  (Undoubtedly, that was my favorite one!)

Asking people whom I love and trust to speak truthfully about not only the positive aspects but the negative ones, as well, will undoubtedly make me a better scholar in the future.  And this, of course, got me thinking…

We can only speak this kind of truth into the lives of people who welcome it.

I’m a realist, so I am probably never going to say nice things simply for the sake of making people feel good.  I do, however, look for the legitimate good in things, and I have found that there is almost always something nice to say.  If I’m speaking with someone I don’t know; I’ll leave it at that.  A complete stranger legitimately does not care about what I think he or she might be doing better in his or her life.  That’s the easy part.

It gets trickier with the people we know and love.  We do, indeed, have a responsibility to be honest with them, to help them become the best people they can be in any given moment.  And I think the hardest part of all of that is discerning which people will welcome that kind of truth and which people are not yet ready, because sometimes even the people who ask for it do not really want it!  There’s probably an entire post about false humility in that… often found in the negative statements people make about themselves or their work when they actually just want you to refute what they’ve said with a repeated positive, an endorsement, or continued external affirmation.  That is so exhausting!

Constructive criticism used to be much harder for me than it is now.  Don’t misunderstand, it’s not as if I love hearing about my faults, but I do appreciate honesty, especially if it helps to shape and form me into someone better.

L.

Also… a couple of people have asked for a transcript of the paper, so here it is in its original form, although I did diverge slightly while presenting… at least once to confess that I had dropped a note card and once to indicate that I was relieved that Eric Severson was not sitting in the room, just in case I really messed up in regard to citing his book (which is one of my favorites)!

Consequences of White Privilege
L Michaels
WPS Meeting, 2017

            For decades, the topic of racism has been largely ignored by the philosophical community, while minority groups continue to suffer injustices at the hands of frightened and narcissistic bigots who lack understanding regarding the importance of diversity and the significance of human worth.  Somehow, many people have embraced whiteprivilege without stopping to consider the consequences.  If being white means that we have the right to safety and security and the pursuit of our own happiness, even at the expense of others, then the problem here is two-fold
            The first and most pressing issue is oppression.  Prejudice and fear, created by a lack of relationship and cultural understanding, often prevent people who are part of minority groups from being empowered, educated, or even loved in the ways they deserve, as people created Imago Dei, just like the people who look more like us!  Clearly, this kind of segregation and separation leads to a disparity in opportunity, and this may stunt human development in those who are discriminated against. 
            But, because this is a systemic problem, we must also focus on the often overlooked underlying issue wherein racism and segregation also stunt human development in those who are prejudiced and fearful, because they do not grow in love and virtue, as they were intended to.  The result is a cyclical generational pattern that grows worse as these characteristics are further embedded within the culture and become the cultural norms, because people only recognize issues from within, if they haven’t become generally acceptable standards.
            To be fair, there is a large segment of the white population who simply do not understand that racism is a problem.  We all know that the familiar is comfortable.  It’s not difficult to sit down in a room full of people who look exactly like you, who believe everything you believe, and who hold to all the same traditions and rhythms of life.  These are not platforms for tense and awkward debate, and those of us who dislike conflict find ourselves heaving huge sighs of relief when we don’t have to engage in it.  But these are also not situations in which any real learning takes place, and the danger is that when we only enter into relationship with people who are just like us; we allow group thoughts, ideas, opinions, philosophies, and theologies to grow, even when we’re wrong!  Ignorance is no excuse, but, rather, it is an opportunity to educate people who might care deeply about this issue, if they were aware.  As humans, we tend to be unaware of problems that don’t directly impact our everyday lives—at least not in tangible ways.  This is one good reason for sharing our stories and listening intently to the narratives of others.  I can remember being a young, idealistic adult and proclaiming, “Racism is dead!”  But I spent many of my formative years in an all white community, so I didn’t have the context I needed to make such a statement.
            Actually, I am a product of the Detroit ‘whiteflight’ movement that occurred in the early 1980s.  I’m not proud of it, but I was seven years old, so I also didn’t have any power to do anything about it at the time.  After an afternoon of playing in the front yard with my new neighbors, who happened to have darker skin than I have, I can remember my dad declaring that we were moving before any more of ‘those people’ came into the neighborhood, apparently making it an unsafe environment in which to raise a child.  Shortly thereafter, he put his childhood home up for sale, and we made our way to the country—an idyllic small town America setting, very literally a few minutes’ drive from the home of the grand dragon of the KKK.  We had acres and acres of land and only white people with whom to associate.  For a child who had begun her life in a culturally rich area, it was devastating.  It was as if we had traded in the theater sized, full color, surround sound life system for some bunny ears and static on a black and white… but mostly white… 12 inch screen.  It bothered me for awhile, but over the next decade, I grew desensitized to my monochromatic world.  I don’t remember ever feeling as if I was better than someone else because of the color of my skin or as if I was somehow entitled to a better life.  In fact, I would have voiced just the opposite.  But whitepriveledge does, indeed, make us feel differently. Even the very best of us, even the most inclusive, are viewing social action and advocacy from a skewed lens.
            I have often observed a ‘super hero mentality’ among individuals from majority groups.  Those of us who claim that we desire diversity often hold authority over those of different races by using language that is patronizing.  We’re going to be the ones who step in and enable people of various ethnicities and races to secure jobs that are almost as good as ours.  We’re going to be their employers. We’re going to enable them to pursue higher education.  Well, first of all, I don’t know anyone who wants to be enabled.  As a female pastor, this hit close to home when a male colleague of mine began talking about what a great enabler he was of women in ministry.  If you take a cursory glance at the definition of enable, it sounds nice: to make able; to give power, means, competence, or ability to; to authorize.  But all of this assumes that we are the gatekeepers, and if we’re really nice, wonderful people, we will permit others do something of significance.  It indicates that there is some sort of deficiency that must be overcome.  This assumes that the other needs our consent, because they are incapable and incompetent without our approval.  Of course, these are only lies we tell ourselves, perhaps to maintain control, to keep hold of our perceived power.  My temptation, even today, is to declare that there is no ‘us and them.’  But because we have created an ‘us and them’ mentality and lived into this reality for so long, there is much work to be done to become a people who wholeheartedly embrace the concept of inclusivity. 
            The very best among us seem to have this picture in our minds where we go out into the world beyond our safe and secure zones, and we rescue people.  Let me be the first to admit my guilt.  We might even be such incredible human beings that we listen to them.  We might provide resources.  And all of this—it’s good.  But what happens more often than not is that when we’re presented with a platform, we mount the steps.  The spotlight falls on us.  And I feel as if I can just hear the booming microphone as we declare,
            “Now, I…  the great, white… champion… will tell your story.”
            We think we’ve got it down.  And we are so proud.
           But the truth is, it’s easier to tell a sterilized version of someone else’s story—particularly if it makes us look good in the process—than it is to just get vulnerable and share our own, admitting that we might not be the heroes, in fact, we might be the villains.
            I recently read the following quote from Parker Palmer’s book, the Courage to Teach: "When we reject that with which we cannot become intimate, our lives are diminished."[i] 
            There’s so much beauty in this statement, and I think it is essentially true, but I’d like to make one alteration.  I tend to be fairly adamant about pushing back when anyone tells me that something is impossible, or that I cannot do something, so I think our ability to intimately relate with others is only limited by how far we are willing to go.  I would propose that when we reject that with which we are unwilling to become intimate, our lives are diminished.  When we intentionally seek safety and power for ourselves as opposed to solidarity within community, we miss out on what a full life should look like.  In the church world, we seem to have mistaken materialistic success for blessing, at the expense of relationships.
            Now, I highly doubt that the vast majority of people who care enough about this issue to read (or listen to) this paper are in any way directly culpable for the oppression of other human beings.  And in fact, when I’ve taken the time to listen to those who legitimately believe that all things are equal for all people, a common defensive statement that I’ve heard is, “I’m not responsible for what happened in the past… for what my ancestors did… for slavery… for segregation…” The list goes on and on.  I’ve also heard things like, “We have to take care of our own, first,” or, “They should pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” or, “Everyone has the same opportunities for success here, they should pave their own way.”
            Are we even Wesleyan?  We need to be responsible! 
         A book that changed my perspective, and subsequently the way I live, was Scandalous Obligation, by Eric Severson.  He writes, “There is a strange brand of comfort afforded by cynicism, which justifies inaction by identifying the potential perils of every action.”[ii]  From a Wesleyan perspective, we are a ‘doing’ people.  Therefore, these common excuses that may be offered to justify discrimination are inadequate.  We don’t get to say things that place the focus on our own inconvenience as opposed to the genuine suffering of others. Wesley was passionate about ministering to the least of these and creating community.  In many ways, the racial segregation in our culture has created a place for people who aren’t white as the least of these, even when they are often as capable, or more capable, than we are!  By oppressing them, we have limited the ability for healing and growth, offering fewer opportunities to minority groups, and we have also deprived ourselves, and the world at large, of their contributions.  Justice and empathy must be present to be fully Wesleyan.  The church must embrace everyone, equally, because morality is about community and seeing beyond ourselves to the needs of others.  Without this, we are not the people we claim to be.  I propose that we are required to live in such a way that we may achieve intimacy with those who are different than us, and that we are responsible for the pain and healing of our neighbors, even if not directly culpable.
            But how do we bridge the gap between races?  We could begin by living in commonality with others, entering into relationships in order to understand the struggle and suffering and to bring about justice, growth, and healing.
            This sounds good, but it is problematic, because, again, from Severson, “We live away from, and drive around, the parts of the world where suffering and poverty go hand in hand.  The things we eat, play with, wear, and enjoy are isolated from their histories.  We like it that way.”[iii]
            And everyone says, “Of course we do!”  Even if a segregated result was not our intention, time and time again we have seen churches move out of the city, move out of the ‘rough neighborhoods,’ move away from the people who have no means to follow.  This pattern is also evident in good schools.  It’s whiteflight all over again. 
            Any of us, who have lived our lives with any kind of privilege, at all, know that it would be crazy to choose suffering and poverty.  It makes no sense from the intellectual perspective of a culture that encourages us to get everything we can and to give only what we absolutely must.  But sometimes doing what is right is not the same thing as doing what the culture dictates.  Unless or until we become willing to fully empathize (not just minimally sympathize) with the oppression of our diverse brothers and sisters, we will never become intimate enough to make any real change in the world, for the sake of the Kingdom.  And with that, one more quote from Scandalous Obligation, “To care and to love is to be vulnerable.”[iv] Popular or not, we can choose vulnerability.
            Just as we should make the shift between cannot and will not, we should also make the shift between enabling and empowering.
            To empower is to relinquish our authority, often in an official or even legal capacity.  By employing strategies of empowerment as opposed to enabling; the white, Christian community can say to our brothers and sisters of other races, “I recognize that you are already competent and capable: I recognize that as a human being, you may already be better at things than I am.  I don’t need to make you better.  I certainly don’t need to make you like me (as if that’s better).  I just need to recognize your already extraordinary worth.”  It puts the burden on those of us who have experienced privilege as opposed to those who have not.  We are culpable, and we need to take a step back without requiring credit or accolades for our great responsibility.  We need to extend shared leadership where it is appropriate, and we need to abdicate leadership, altogether, if someone else (regardless of race, sex, national origin… gosh, I’m starting to sound like an application waiver—but, really, if anyone else) is more qualified. 
            If you’ve ever engaged in any kind of ministry, and I think the percentage of people in this room that have done so and are doing so is probably close to 100%, you know there are advantages for both the minister and those to whom we minister.  Diverse relationships work much in the same way, and, at least from my perspective, it’s not even a huge stretch to decide we are going to advocate for our brothers and sisters who have different skin tones.  It’s the kind of thing that legitimately shouldn’t be an issue anymore, but it is, because we have allowed it to stay so by refusing to recognize their struggle and by refusing to let them speak into our lives.  When we push people down in such a way that they can only say the things we approve of, that they can only share perspectives that we understand or culture that we already embrace; everybody loses.
            So let’s be very clear, we are not somehow creating space for people of lesser intelligence, ability, or worth to sort of ‘make it.’  We’re just getting out of the way, because we’ve been in the spotlight too long, and we’re all missing out on the beauty of diverse cultural traditions and rhythms, because these things have been allocated to a dark corner somewhere, as taboo.  It’s time to not only speak unifying truth from the platforms we’re given.  It’s time to relinquish those platforms, entirely, and to recognize that this is not a sacrifice on our part.  Everyone benefits, as we become better able to realize the universal Kingdom of God, here and now. 


[i]Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 91.
[ii]Eric R. Severson, Scandalous Obligation: Rethinking Christian Responsibility (Kansas City: Beacon Hill of Kansas City, 2011), 24. Print. 
[iii]Severson, 36.
[iv]Severson, 155.

Monday, March 13, 2017

When the Roof Caves In



Oh… dear, sweet friends… how I wish this was a metaphor…

I have many stories that I could share from the past week (and I probably will, over time), but I’m not sure any is as aptly profound as the one when the ceiling of the downtown apartment, in which we are living part-time, fell down.

Not too long ago, as I was laughing about our current housing situation, an acquaintance described me as, “from another planet.”  I took it as a compliment… strangers and aliens and all that.  As a planner, I’m not always great at adjusting and adapting on the fly, but I’m getting better at it all the time.  I’m learning to let go of so many expectations and to live in the given moment, whatever it may hold. 

So, even when the roof caved in, I took a deep breath and went on with the next couple of days.  I am a firm believer in the concept of doing what I need to do.  I had things I needed to do, so I did them… Welcome to the department of redundancy department…

However… 

When I went to pick up some things I needed for work and realized they were covered in dust; I also realized something else.  I had reached my breaking point.  I took about ten minutes to consider this, while my husband took several loads of the kids’ clothes and toiletries down the stairs to our waiting vehicle.  Then I joined him so we could drive to a friend’s home (where we had already left the children) to spend the night.

Except…   The van wouldn’t start.  

So, I laughed again, because—seriously—only one breakdown per day…

At this point, we proceeded to walk the half mile to the place where we are staying.  We were carrying and rolling bags… and sleeping bags…  down the street…  in sweats…

Shaking my head, I stopped to consider whether this is the kind of solidarity I really want to display in my life.  I mean…  OK…  I guess…  But I couldn’t even post this, last night, because I was so overwhelmed.

This morning I recognize that my short journey in the dark and cold, carrying as many essentials as I could (and… apparently Phil’s Mountain Dew…  see selfie…  no, wait…  I’m not posting it…), ended at a warm house with a comfortable bed.  So, even when things are as frustrating as they possibly can be, the irritations in my life aren’t anywhere close to the suffering of many others around me.

I don’t want to be cliché or attempt to provide easy answers for impossible questions, but I think the best I can do, right now… as I prepare to walk to work in the falling snow (in my flip flops)…  is to give thanks.  We’re here.  That counts for something, right?  Honestly…  somebody please say, “right!”
 
L.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Do Impossible Things

Rather than re-post, here's the link to my commentary on the gospel passage for this week, found at "A Plain Account":

John 3:1-17

I'm looking forward to joining the podcast/youtube conversation again, tomorrow afternoon!  Check back at the FGT facebook page tomorrow morning to get the link!

L.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Healing Comes in the Waiting

The following is a guest post, by my friend, Debbie Whiting,
whom I met while on my educational journey at NNU.
Debbie is a graduate assistant, minister, and wife.
She also lets me crash at her house whenever I descend on Nampa,
which is pretty awesome!
This piece speaks to vulnerability,
looking for God in times of waiting,
and should, perhaps, cause us to pause to consider
how we care for those who minister to us
when they’re hurting…

***
 
A few months back, I suffered a concussion. I’d never had a concussion before—at least not one that was diagnosed—but figured I’d be fine after a few days of rest. After all, it wasn’t a serious concussion! I didn’t even hit my head, just my chin when I fell. No big deal.

Lie in bed and nap that weekend, let the kids play outside with the neighbor kids, and go back to work on Monday…

Follow up with my primary doctor in a couple of days as the ER doc recommended, just as a precaution...

Little did I know how much that ‘minor’ concussion would change my life.

Fast forward to now, just four short months later, but four months that have felt like an eternity. I am in several types of therapy to heal from my minor Traumatic Brain Injury, and while my therapists tell me I am making slow and steady progress, it is not fast enough for my liking. I want to be better now; I don’t want to be stuck in recovery! Hearing that I am progressing, and even seeing the progress myself, does not change my desire to be better now. What is it with wanting things done on our time? Why is it so hard to give up the control we didn’t actually have in the first place? I wouldn’t have chosen to get a concussion (or to deal with mental illness, exacerbated by a brain injury—that’s a different story!), but it still happened to me, and it is my choice how I respond to it. How will I respond in the time of recovery, of waiting? Will I be impatient; frustrated at my seeming lack of progress, or will I embrace this time of slowing down and allow myself to heal?

I’m not good at waiting. Sure, I can be patient and have lots of patience when it comes to dealing with other people.  But for myself? I want to be better already and skip past all the work! Sometimes I enjoy the process of bettering myself, such as taking a graduate class and learning so many interesting things. It doesn’t seem much like work when I’m learning about things outside of myself. But when it comes to dealing with my own issues? I’d rather skip past it all! I don’t want to deal with the vulnerability that comes with not having it all together. Being in recovery means the world knows there is something wrong with me, something imperfect, something that needs to be fixed. Sure, everyone has something they need to work on, but why can’t mine be something I can hide? It’s not exactly easy to fake nothing is wrong with me when in conversations I forget what I was saying mid-thought, or I wince in pain from the constant headaches that came with my mTBI, so I can’t pretend I don’t need to recover from this concussion. But still, I wish recovery could go faster and I could be cured without all the excessive waiting and healing.

Maybe if I do my therapy exercises faster my healing will come sooner. Makes sense, right? The harder I work, the sooner I’ll be healed, done with therapy, and out of recovery? I tried that, yesterday, during my vestibular therapy (that’s therapy dealing with the inner ear, for all of you who aren’t versed in concussion treatments!) working on a balance exercise. The exercise was to turn in a circle, 360 degrees, and stop. Sounds easy, right? That’s what I thought! I neglected to remember I am in vestibular therapy for a reason and turned too quickly. Not the best idea—it made me feel a bit dizzy. I am supposed to wait for my symptoms to subside before moving on but was eager to get through therapy, so I could heal faster. So, I did another 360 turn before my symptoms had decreased enough. I felt even worse after that turn. My head was reeling, my eyes hurt, I felt a bit nauseous, and the floor felt like it was moving. As usual, my therapist asked how I felt, and I told her the truth. She gently reminded me doing the exercises was supposed to help me feel better, not worse. Trying to do the exercises faster will not make my healing come faster but can actually set me back!

How is it that the more we rest, the better we heal? Why is hard work and exertion not the answer for recovery? In order to heal, I must be still. In order for my dizziness and nausea to subside, I must wait. It is in the waiting that the healing comes. For my brain, the waiting tells my brain it is okay. For my soul, waiting, resting in God, is where the true healing begins.