Actually, It IS Your City

The recent unrest in Charlotte….what a ridiculous phrase….make that… the recent violence in Charlotte has brought about interesting responses from people, one of which has been the tendency to say “this is not my city!”

First, I was born and raised in Charlotte. Both of my parents, my uncle and my cousin were teachers in the Charlotte Mecklenburg public school system; same system in which I was a student for all 12 years. I went to college in Charlotte, owned a house in Charlotte, lived and worked there until I was 34 years old and still have family and friends living there. So when I say what I’m about to say, I do so with personal and rather extensive knowledge of the place.

No, actually, it IS your city.

Now, I completely understand why people in this and many similar situations respond with that phrase and that feeling! People do not want to think of the place where they live as being violent or racist or narrow minded or hateful and hurtful. But let me ask this: are there human beings living in that city? Yes? Well then, there is violence, racism, narrowmindedness and hateful, hurtful actions. It is your city. It is every city. It is every group of humans.

But there is something else I want to say to all of us… and I do mean US because I’ve been guilty of this, too…. We need to quit the whole “not my…” whatever thing. And here’s why. We say “that is NOT my city” or “my school” or “my country” or whatever because we are embarrassed or ashamed of the behavior and we want people to know that’s not who we, personally, are.  I have that feeling when I see narrow-minded and cruel Christians doing insane things to people in the name of Jesus Christ. I want to shout at the top of my lungs, “THAT’S NOT MY CHRISTIANITY! THAT’S NOT MY JESUS!!”  But the problem is that saying “it’s not mine” means that we no longer have responsibility to it or for it. We might be trying to say that we had no idea this place harbored such hatred and violence and that we do not, ourselves, hold such things in our heart, but we are actually doing something far more detrimental than that.

If I say “That’s Not MY City”, then I have just divorced myself from both the problem (which I might not be contributing to, but then again I might be whether I realize it or not) and from the solution as well. If it’s not my city, then I have no responsibility for helping those who have been hurt, repairing the damage that has been done, or the rebuilding and healing that must take place. If “it’s not my city” then I don’t really have to care or concern myself with all the difficult issues that surround the violence, rage, pain, and tremendous social dysfunction that has brought us to this place. I’m also lying to myself and everyone else.

Several years before I arrived in the congregation where I serve as pastor, there was a heartbreaking and difficult set of circumstances that ended up painfully dividing and damaging the people. When I got here, many had left because this wasn’t what they wanted or needed in a church. I don’t fault those people for that one bit. However, I asked one of the women who had stayed through it all, enduring a great deal of the difficulty that many others were spared, “why did you stay?” She could have gone somewhere else; there are tons of great churches in town. “Because,” she said, “you don’t abandon people when they are hurting.”this-is-ours

So, I propose that we change the phrase “That’s not MY city” to “This IS OUR City”. This is our city, community, school, town, nation, world. Whatever group is hurting, it is OURS, and even if it is hard to face the bad things, the violent and painful things, and even if we do not know how to fix it, we will not abandon it to hopelessness and despair.

I do not know the answer to all of the struggles we face around our country. They are indeed Legion. But I do know this: This Is Ours. And we just can’t abandon people when they are hurting.

#thisisours

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil by doing good—Romans 12:21

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Word and Works

Today I got to write with the writer’s group I used to spend time with and it was just delightful! Schedules change and things happen to make it impossible to go… but then schedules change again and make it possible once more!

The writing prompt for today was Word and Works. The group had been writing using a work of art as a prompt, but I kinda missed that bit, so I did it a little differently. However, they were, as they were in the past, kind and supportive. Looking forward to doing this again and hopefully on a regular basis.

 

Word and Works

The line between didn’t really exist. The line between the word and the action wasn’t really a line at all. It was the breath; that is all there was. A breath between the word and the work. The breath made word into work. Word made flesh and blood and bone, working together. Breath made static word into kinetic work of body.

But first
Breath and word became the perpetual motion of light; working, pressing back the dark. Always birthing, bringing the new.

Then
Breath and word became the work of flow. Flowing water and air. The work of ebbing life, the work of growing green, the work of shinning blue. The in and out of breath was the flow of word into work.

At last
Came the flesh and blood and bone. Finally, came the vessel to carry the breath. Word and work joined in breath became the beat of blood and heart, the soar of the mind, the lift of the hands.

Breath wove through words and became the fabric of work, wrapping up the vessel in life. Filled up the vessel to the brim, seeped into every moment, filled and stretched and pushed outward to overflowing; till overflow was inevitable.

The word rode the breath through the vessel, up and up and out of the mouth and the work was love. And the vessel was love.

But all of this
This was before. Before we drew a line between word and work; before we held our breath and separated the doing from the being; the bold, wide line that cuts us in two.

End Of Summer Canning

Well, I want to be canning but it seems that I can’t get there from here because my schedule is overflowing with work things to do. However, it appears there may be canning opportunities next week!

What to can? Well, I’m not completely sure what will be on the menu, though apples are likely. Barber’s Orchard is just down the road and they’ve got some delicious apples! I found this article about what kinds of foods are in season in North Carolina throughout the year and it seems, logically, that what’s in season is what’s eligible for preserving. I’d like to freeze some things but I have extremely limited freezer space so I couldn’t really do much with that.

Although I’d be happy to not deal with apple sauce for a while (due to the relatively recent apple sauce extravaganza at the church with over 21 gallon bags to freeze), I’m still quite likely to do something or another with apples. I’d like to make stewed (not sauced) apples or something like I usually put into apple pies so that I could have canned apple pie filling. I’ve still got some of these spiced apples that I canned a couple of years ago and they’re pretty yummy but not exactly what I wanted to do.

Hopefully more posts and photos of fruity veggie goodness will follow soon!

I’m Sorry, I’m So Sorry

Last week I had a small though frustrating incident with another person that made me think about what it means to ask for forgiveness. The details of the incident are irrelevant because, largely speaking, they are first world problems that did dr whono permanent damage to me and are ultimately insignificant in the brushstrokes of time. The apology consisted of this: I’m sorry, but…. I’m sorry that I did this thing that caused you trouble and frustration, but it was actually someone else’s fault because they made me do it. Now, as I am typing this, I’m tempted to put that phrase in little quotation marks as though quoting this individual alone but it seems only fair to say not only do we all do this at some point, I know I have done this, too. I’m not happy about saying that because it is the cold hard truth. Often, I will use the phrase with sarcasm, such as: I’m sorry you are upset about something petty in your life but the world does go on. This sort of “I’m sorry, but…” is not so much an apology as it is a parody of “I’m sorry things are this way for you.” I say parody because I’m actually being sarcastic. However, I know I, as probably all of us, have used the phrase *“I’m sorry, but” in a contrived apologetic manner. This exchange last week has actually been a wonderful opportunity for me because it has brought all of that (that is to say all that faux apology stuff that I do, too, and really don’t want to do any more) to mind and it has reminded me of a very significant act of apology which was given to me many years ago.

One totally random day over a decade ago, I received a hand written letter of apology from a woman who had once been a girl who assisted in making my school years a misery of teasing, betrayal, and outcast status. She wasn’t the big bully who had picked on me, not any of the big bullies actually, but she was probably one step less obvious and more poisonous. She had been my friend. She had been one of those girls who acted like a friend only to turn on you when the cool kids were around. Since I knew her nearly all of my public school life and was a sucker who was desperate for a friend, she had many opportunities to do this kind of thing over and over again. There were other things, too, but this is the general category and gives the flavor cruelty I experienced.

The letter was a genuine, simple, complete apology. She enumerated in a general and concise way that still showed she was apologizing for specific events as well as an overall falseness in relationship. While I am certain that there were reasons why she did what she did that most likely involved pain on her part which ended up redirected at me rather than at who or what had harmed her, she did not make excuses or give mitigating reasons for her actions. She simply said: I did this, I regret it, I am sorry. Now that is an apology! That is an attempt at what a genuine reconciliation can look like. She didn’t seek to make me feel sorry for her or let go of hurt and anger because I could, through some rendering of her own tortured heart, identify that her suffering was greater than my own and excuse rather than forgive her treatment of me.

Excusing a behavior is when I have a headache and snap at my secretary and then, realizing what I did and why, I return to her office and say, “I’m sorry I snapped at you. I have a headache.” This is acceptable because the slight shown my secretary was impolite or rude, not personal, long lasting, or more than a single isolated event. The desire on my part is to be excused of the rude behavior not because she will feel sorry for me but because she, too, knows what it’s like to be grumpy with a headache.  This is fine when there has been a small slight, an impolite moment, but when there have been trespasses upon another in such a way as to fray or damage a relationship or, worse still, deeply harm or reshape another person altogether, this is not appropriate. When we have deeply harmed another, there is a genuine wound present which we caused and there is no amount of “but”, either spoken or implied in a litany of describing perceived justifications, that can close that wound in them.

Here’s why I believe this is true. First, actions done to you by others do not justify actions you do to someone else. They may have a cause and effect relationship of some sort, but the first does not make it right (that is, justify) what you have done to another. Second, it denies the person whom you have wronged the ability to ask the question that hums through the heart of most of us when we’ve been harmed: why? It is important that a wronged party have the chance to ask the question rather than have the answer thrust down their throat and, once again, being trespassed upon. It also denies them the right to say they don’t care why; and they have that right. Regardless of how much we may wish to give reasons why we did what we did, it is better to wait, hold out the hand palm up, so to speak, and wait for the engagement of the other, giving them the option to ask and engage us. Or not.

It is likely that a desire to answer the “why” question is sometimes a motivator in our over explaining apologies. As children, we are often told to explain our actions and it becomes an anticipated part of conversations when we are “in trouble” with authority. Additionally, we have most likely experienced the “why” question welling up from one of our own wounds and may be trying to satisfy our own need for answers by doing what those who have harmed us will not. However, I suspect that ultimately we hope to turn the other person’s anger, resentment, or hurt into sympathy for us. Like the wild animal that attacks the hand giving a kind gesture and only does so because it is wounded, we want the person we attacked to see us as a victim, too. But unless the action was a mere isolated act of rudeness or unless you are nothing more than a wild animal, this sort of behavior is inappropriate. In truth, it can become a sort of passive-aggressive suffering one-upmanship designed, albeit potentially subconsciously, to make the other person apologize to YOU for not realizing YOUR deeper pain.

And yet if we wait for the “why” question, all the context information we want so desperately to impart becomes not the reason to be excused that we wish it to be but is a response to the other person’s need. That is the beginning of rebuilding and of reconciliation. The person harmed must be given the space to ask their questions and the choice whether or not to ask them at all. This empowers them and begins to restore to them the power they had lost to the one who harmed them. It isn’t by any means, the whole of reconciliation and healing, but it is a move in that direction and it opens the door to it in a way that all our vehement self-justification never could.

So here are some final thoughts I have on apology, both for myself as much as for anyone else. If you are seeking forgiveness for something and find yourself ready to give a laundry list of reasons why you did what you did, stop and think about what you’re really doing.

  • Are you afraid they won’t forgive you? Yes, they might not forgive you, but do it anyway. Apologize because it is the right thing for you to do and refrain from passing judgment on what the other person will or will not do. It is not your place to do this.
  • Are you afraid you won’t get to share your side of the experience or is there forgiveness the other person should also be seeking from you, too? Well, you might not get to say anything more, but then again it is likely you will. It will be more beneficial to everyone including yourself if you wait for the “why” questions. After the “why”s, dialog is open and you may be able to talk about other issues as well.
  • Are you trying to manipulate someone else? Apologies are a cheap and ugly form of emotional manipulation if you are actually not seeking forgiveness and resolution. So don’t do it. Ever. It is truly deeply a lie to do so.
  • Are you hurting from the wounds inflicted by someone else that have been motivators for you to hurt the one you wish to apologize to? Remember you are not a wild animal and you are responsible for your own actions. This does not mean you have to beat yourself up eternally for something you did because of your own wounds, but it does mean you need help. So get it. And remember that it is not the fault of anyone you’ve harmed and all the sympathy that they possess cannot heal YOU. They are entitled to their “why” moment just as you are, so make a genuine apology and wait for their “why” and if it doesn’t come that is just fine. But do not wait to get help with your own wounds.
  • Are you afraid to admit you were wrong and you screwed up? Join the club! So is the rest of the human race, so know you’re in good company and be honest with yourself and the person you’ve hurt. Own up to it, apologize, don’t say but, and move on.

So what happened to the girl from my childhood who wrote that letter of apology? Actually, I don’t know. I do not know where she is or what she’s doing. I never asked the “why” question because honestly as a grown up I knew why; at least in that general sense of human beings passing along the hurt others have committed and doing things they regret. That is enough for me. I think of this letter every time I need to apologize for something and it is my prayer I will do it with the same sincerity and vulnerability that she did. Her apology was a gift to me, not just because it acknowledged what it did, but also because it has become for me a benchmark of the first steps in reconciliation with others.

*Somewhere a long time ago I read an interesting thing about the word but. It stands for Behold the Undeniable Truth. I’d like to visit my grandmother but it’s raining outside. I’d like to visit my grandmother, behold the undeniable truth, I don’t want to bad enough to put on a raincoat. You get the picture. It is a quite reasonable word to use, but it is important to think about whether or not we’re just saying a nice platitude to cover for what we really feel.

But We’re Working On It

It is with great joy that I share this guest post in the on going series on body image. Tara is a student in the campus ministry program I work with, an intern of mine from a summer past, and a friend. She is twenty one and a Junior at WCU, studying philosophy and working part time with students with intellectual disabilities. In her “free” time, she reads, knits and practices her Tae Kwon Do.  Please enjoy her words!

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When I was first asked to write this post, I thought that it would be an easy thing to do. However, when I sat down to actually write it, I ran into trouble. My body and I have never been the best of friends, but we’re working on that.

My image issues started in elementary school. I was always the quiet child, preferring to read during recess rather than run around playing tag. Looking for something to help with my self image, I turned to tae kwon do. This did wonders to teach me respect: for my superiors, for those of lower rank than myself, and for me. However, it did not help with my body image.

Because TKD has such focus on footwork and kicking, my thighs and calves became bigger. People never seemed to consider the fact that they were bigger  because of muscle growth. It was automatically assumed that I was fat.  It also didn’t help that I was the only girl in my seventh grade PE class who was not able to fill out a bra.

By eighth grade, I could be found wearing hoodies and jeans almost every day. PE was my own personal hell because the uniform was shorts and a tee shirt, which highlighted my big thighs and flat chest. I retreated further into my shell, throwing myself into scholastic achievement and my martial arts.

My first venture into the world of body positivity was during my sophomore year of high school. I joined my high school’s colorguard. This was a group of thirty or so girls of all shapes, sizes, and colors. My leg strength was  praised because I could march a ten minute show without becoming too fatigued. I was stretching and working out every day which helped my overall appearance. Throughout my three years on colorguard, I competed in three different uniforms. I had to overcome my issues with changing in front of others and wearing clothes that actually highlighted my curves.

My growth continued throughout my college career. I became more confident in myself as a person, which helped with my confidence in my body. The biggest impact, though, was surrounding myself with people who liked me for me. They didn’t look at my size, but my character. They decided to be my friend because of who I am.

My involvement in my school’s production of the Vagina Monologues has made the most difference in how I feel about my body. The Vagina Monologues are a series of monologues highlighting different women’s issues. Within this group, we support each other in all aspects. We are a body positive group that never shames.v

Another big support group has been my campus ministry group. We make the intentional decisions to focus Bible studies around self esteem issues, understanding that it is something that we all struggle with. I am surrounded by people who share the same faith as me, walking the same road I walk. It’s something I find comforting.

I have come a long way on my road to being okay with my body’s shape and size. I still have a ways to go, but I’m well on my way.

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This is the fourth post in a series on body image. If you have a story or wish to write an essay about your own experience with body image to post on this blog, please contact me. I would love to read it!

Additionally, if you wish to learn more about Vagina Monologues at WCU please go here or about the monologues in general, go here.

The Me I Love, The Body I Hate

It is with great joy that I share this guest post in the on going series on body image. Kristin is a very dear, long-time friend and colleague with whom I have shared many a body image frustration. It is definitely common ground for us! Please enjoy her words!

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I both love and hate my body.  Actually no it’s not really my body I love.  I love myself and I am completely confident that I am loved.  My mother made sure of the latter.  She hated her body.  As a polio survivor, when she saw her body she only ever saw the literal scars from the multiple surgeries she had between the ages of 4 and 13.  She saw the isolation of months spent laying in iron lungs and hospital beds.  She saw the loneliness of not being able to go outside and play with her siblings or do any of the normal things that children would do.  She saw the limitations of the things her body could not do.

There was one limitation that my mother never accepted – having a child.  Her parents and countless doctors told her it would be impossible.  She didn’t listen.   The pregnancy was hard and she knew there would only be one.  But my mother often told me I was the one thing she was proudest of in her life.  She may not have liked her body, but she wanted me to like mine.  She wanted me to have the confidence she rarely felt or in my opinion never gave herself credit for.  She told me I was beautiful and that I was loved.  She told me often.   I believed her.

As I grew up though my body did not look like the Barbie ideal. I have the wide hips and large bust common on my father’s side of the family but the shorter height of my mother’s side. My mother told me I was beautiful, my classmates teased me mercilessly. My mother dried my tears and in her eyes I saw her own pain but I also saw her love. I never doubted whether I mattered. I never doubted that I was loved. And I loved her. It’s hard not to love someone who loves you so unconditionally. And it is hard not to believe her. That is part of the reason why I have always loved my body because I love myself.

But I also hate my body.  I have always struggled with weight.  I have never liked the bra cup size that requires special ordering, the fact that I cannot buy regular pants without dealing with hemming them.  And bad habits, like comforting myself with food, die hard.  I still have a ways to go before I will ever be able to say I like my body.

When I see pictures of myself that show more than just my face, I don’t often like what I see.  That’s when I see the flaws.  That’s when I see what others see when they look at my body.  But when I look in the mirror I see me.  And I see my Mom.  And I see a cross on my forehead that says I am a child of God.  And that image I love.  I don’t know if I will ever like the me I see in pictures, but I pray I will always love the me I see in the mirror and be confident that I am loved.

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This is the third post in a series on body image. If you have a story or wish to write an essay about your own experience with body image to post on this blog, please contact me. I would love to read it!