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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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!

I Know Her Not

This is part of a series of posts on body image.

“Right. I look fine. Except I don’t,’ said Zora, tugging sadly at her man’s nightshirt. This was why Kiki had dreaded having girls: she knew she wouldn’t be able to protect them from self-disgust. To that end she had tried banning television in the early years, and never had a lipstick or a woman’s magazine crossed the threshold of the Belsey home to Kiki’s knowledge, but these and other precautionary measures had made no difference. It was in the air, or so it seemed to Kiki, this hatred of women and their bodies– it seeped in with every draught in the house; people brought it home on their shoes, they breathed it in off their newspapers. There was no way to control it.”
Zadie Smith, On Beauty

While I never thought self-disgust was in any way how human beings were meant to experience themselves or the place from which we are intended to experience the world around us, it has, simultaneously, almost always been how I assumed everyone functioned to some degree or another. At some point I realized that the majority of men do not experience themselves and the world around them through the dark, welder’s goggle lenses of self-loathing and that most women do. I am quite aware that this is a broad generalization and make no particular apologies for it except to say yeah, I know but I’m saying it anyway. I could cite many studies that relate to my experience and most all would support it but I am not bothering to do so because that’s not the point. This isn’t a sociological essay with any scientific value. It is my experience and my reflection.

I grew up in a home that affirmed me as beautiful, smart, pretty (which isn’t the same thing as beautiful) and valuable not just as an individual but also as a loved and wanted member of the family. I was never once—not one single time—made to feel inadequate or “less than” by either of my parents because I was a girl.

That was, of course, only true within my family and only until I came into contact with the outside world, at which time my father’s near paranoid fear of the world’s evils, which were certain to be lurking around every corner waiting to snatch his precious child off to a Neverland Hell, and my mother’s certainty that some characteristic or habit would prevent others from taking me seriously, began to cloud that sense of self. Their desire to protect, love and prepare their daughter for the world collided with the world’s desire to transform every human into a base, consumable item and, just as it has been true for many a woman, a perfect storm of self-disgust was born.

I learned to dislike myself, that is to say specifically my physical body, early in elementary school because I was big, both in height and weight, and different from everyone else and could not hide from the cruelty of other children. My body was the ideal target for dodge ball, played both with the big half-inflated gym class balls and with words flung carelessly, and I hated it for its inability to cooperate, to shrink and be less obvious, to be normal. I also began to think of my body as an “it” and not “me”. That began a lifelong denial that rivaled Peter himself. I know her not. A daily practiced betrayal of the body.

I developed a woman’s curves very early, hips and breasts rounding and shaping a classic female shape out of my little girl body. By the sixth grade I was the tallest girl in the class and while other girls were reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, praying for their periods to start and begging their moms to buy them training bras they could then stuff with Kleenex, I was already in B cups, perpetually folding my arms across my chest and begging my mother for something other than Tylenol for cramps.

The pediatrician told my parents that this 5’1” eleven year old was destined to be a very tall woman. A big woman, much like today’s WNBA athletes. They searched desperately for role models as the doctor suggested. Every tall woman we came into contact with would be held as an example of beauty. “Look at that beautiful, tall woman! Her long arms and legs… someday you’ll be tall like that. She’s so beautiful and graceful and tall.” Linda Carter, the actress who played Wonder Woman, was a favorite example held up for me in the most love-filled and misguided attempt to root my body image in something powerful, feminine and good: Wonder Woman.

I never grew another inch taller and remained a 5’1”, chubby, uncoordinated girl with short blonde hair. Not Wonder Woman. Not powerful. Not good. Not beautiful. Though decidedly feminine and because I only got one out of the whole list, I hated that one. I hated my fat, my increasing comparative shortness, my ever-enlarging breasts and ever-widening hips, my thick legs and tiny feet and hands that, by their diminutiveness, even further accentuated my self-perceived enormous physical landscape.

The other girls hated me for my rapid development and I hated my body for it as well. But I could not seem to hate them because somehow I knew they hated their own bodies, too. We taught one another, long before the boys came along to teach us, how to hate our own flesh.

Both in love for another and hatred of ourselves do we hurt each other.

Much time has passed in my life since those days. I have come to see Wonder Women in every size, shape, color, age…. even my own. I’ve come to believe that hating the body to the point of denying one’s own personhood is hating oneself in both a deeply personal, whole identity way and in a broad, far-reaching way that spreads beyond the boundaries of our own skin and into the lives of others. We do not hate in a vacuum; it is contagious and poisonous. To heal our body image is to see ourselves as whole people and, therefore, to begin to heal the world.

This is the first 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!

The Dream of the River

Writing Group Assignment: river, bridge

Sometimes I have a dream about a fast moving river, thundering its way over rocks, charging powerfully before me. There is no bridge to cross. There is no way around it. The river is full of people. People in pain. People lost. People lonely, broken and afraid, tumbling along in chaos. I want to cross the river and be done with it, put it behind me and move on. Fly over it and make it only a tiny ribbon of water far below. But even in the dream I cannot fly and there is never a bridge. It breaks my heart over and over again.

But there is a tree. Sometimes, in the dream, I climb the tree and stretch way out over the water on the long, thick branches and reach down to grab someone by the hand or head or neck, rip them out of the churn. I toss them on the riverbank as though they weigh nothing. The first time it was hard and I wasn’t strong but the more I did it the stronger I got. Once, I looked back at the people I had pulled out. Some were diving, crawling back into the river; the river that sweeps them away. But some were not. Some were climbing the tree and reaching out to grab someone else and pull them out.

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I had a friend years ago, a big round man, beautiful and golden haired, golden bearded, just like you might imagine Santa Clause would have looked as a young man. He was a pastor then and leading a whole group of us to work in a Salvadorian community, the name of which translated to mean Hill of Branches. He brought two suitcases full of clothes and shoes with him on the trip which seemed like an awful lot of clothes even for a big man. On the last night he came back to the house, face and beard soaking wet with tears. “I gave it all away,” he said, “everything I had, I gave it all away. Even the suitcases. I’m going home with only the clothes on my back!” He laughed full and round, booming and echoing all through the simple cinderblock church hall, his whole body weeping with joy and love. “God breaks our hearts over them,” he told me. “It never ends. The need never ends, no matter how many times I come back and try to help. But over and over, a thousand thousand times my heart pours out to them.”

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The tree by the river in the dream, sometimes it talks to me. “When you pass through the waters,” she says, “I will be with you. And the rivers, they won’t overwhelm you.” The river never ends and I never cross it but sometimes, just as my heart breaks over the river for the thousand thousandth time, the tree speaks those words with my mouth.

Random Acts of Kindness

Take a look over at this blog:

yearofkindness

Really interesting! I believe she’s come to the end of the 100 days, but it’s still worth looking at and getting inspiration.

I am still making my prayer boxes, post-its and other such things but have chosen not to blog about them for a while for a whole plethora of reasons, mostly related to not wanting people to hunt for them but for whoever comes along to happen upon them. I may, however, do a  little round up of some thing just to show them.

Today is Crafty Pastor and we’re working on prayer boxes. It’s sometimes hard to get the concept across and I’m hoping I’ll have a little better luck this year.

Journey of Renewal

As part of the Journey of Renewal program for my ministry, I am to create a life plan, life goal, mission statement type of thing. It is actually quite interesting. The latest assignment was to examine the different areas of our life that we want to improve and then write out some sort of plan. Honestly, I’ve done this sort of thing so many times that I wasn’t sure I could make it something other than a rehashing of what’s been a part of my previous work. So, I decided to do a visual piece instead.

Of the different life areas this program examines I chose to work with the physical and social components of a balanced life. Ultimately, though, my goal with this whole program is to examine what is already working well in my life so that I can duplicate it in other settings.

I chose to use a few pieces I already had that had not found a home as of yet. The heart is layered polymer clay with clock parts encased in an epoxy. It never dried quite right, but I think the uneven texture adds to it. The box itself is a metal shrine box that I ordered from ARTchix Studio and so are the really cool copper wings. Archive paper, cotton yarn, metal cross with crystal, copper key and metal sparrow form the rest.

Ultimately, I think it is a good representation of what I’m aiming for: a harmony of mind, body, heart and spirit. In reality, I do not think these things are actually separate but I, like so many of us, tend to live in my head as though all the rest were somehow disconnect-able from my brain.

I put the key on the outside of the box as a reminder that I’ve got the key to me.