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

Hometown

Writing Assignment: “I am from…”

Sitting in the heavy, big city traffic, I look off to the remarkably un-mountainous horizon in the direction of Carrowinds, a theme park I often visited as a child. The colossal DNA of skyscrapers, draped carelessly across the landscape, are stark against the late afternoon sky. Great metal strands support impossibly high and bizarre hills and loops. They are otherworldly, space age Jetson-like, especially compared to how I remember rollercoasters. I lumber along this strange territory in an automobile heard comprised mostly of the inaccurately named ‘mini’ vans that dwarf my tiny, ancient four door car. En masse, we turn a curve and I see the rollercoaster of my childhood: Thunder Road. A dinosaur, big and dense by comparison to the soaring arches of 21st century coasterdom. It is an old wooden lady with soft curves, once fierce and intimidating, now almost nostalgic.

I feel old and alien and I do not think I belong here anymore.

This is my home town, though town seems a small, cramped word for this place now. I grew up here, in the walkways of Carrowinds, in the front lawn of the Presbyterian Church under the great Magnolia tree, by the enormous honeysuckle bush where I waited for the school bus. In the hallway of this school I sat and read Ray Bradbury short stories to my friend and fell in love with science fiction. In this grocery store I learned a lifetime’s worth of gossip and tall tales. Here is where there was once a Chinese restaurant where I would go to dinner with my mother at least once a week. Here, next door, is where the drug store was. I worked there when I was in college and I remember the day my mom’s best friend came to pick me up from work just after my father died. I was shelving shampoo.

There is the place that used to be a nightclub with big plate glass windows. Once, someone’s bull got loose and ended up in that parking lot, convinced another arrogant bull was taunting and staring at him from inside the club. We listened to the whole thing on the scanner and heard the police shout out, “ride ‘em cowboy!” and laugh at one another until they couldn’t breathe.

This was once a field and that was always just the woods along this road. A farmer used to plant corn over there on the corner and you always knew it was summer when you couldn’t see the cars at the intersection for their great, tasseled stalks.

Up on that hill there was a huge tree, probably one of the biggest I’ve ever seen, at least as I look up into it now inside my memory and it seems a giant green universe unto itself. It was in front of my 5th grade math teacher’s house. She was also the Sunday school teacher who taught me the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed and Ten Commandments.

I do not belong here anymore. As I look at new apartments and housing developments, I remember great grass fields, trees, less traffic, air that was easier to breathe. I walk through a bookstore that stands right about where that bull and his reflective adversary once challenged each other and later, I will push a grocery cart through what was once the dense, dark woods filled with pine and oak and soft earth made from the uncountable seasons’ shedding of needle and leaf that began long before white people stepped into this county for the first time. It is all different. There are new people here. There is new life, new feet running through Carrowinds, and new faces gawking at rollercoasters scraping the sky. New families, new shops. It is all alive in a new way.

It is not bad, this new alive in the place that was once my home town. But it is not the place where I belong anymore and that’s ok because my home town, the place to which I once belonged, is still alive in my heart. So I leave behind the heard of ‘mini’ vans, put their exhaust haze and all the strange newness in my rear view mirror, and turn to where the land rolls like Thunder Road. It will be good to be home.

Here, There Be Dragons

Folk School week as begun and it is an amazing place. I am loving it here but it is overwhelming in its different-ness and in the newness of the craft I’m learning.

I am convinced that dragons live here. In the night I imagine I can hear them breathe and move around the grounds; fly above my bed by the window, high in the air, circling. Breeze through the room is their downdraft as they lift off. Lightening is the flash of their power; thunder is the roar of their mystery. For this is a strange and new land, peopled with mysterious creatures made from unknown wisdom.

Round and spinning lightning fast with teeth of pure steel make sport of cedar, devouring a thin strip and spewing a plume of dust in perfect dragon-breath style into the late afternoon gold-light. Sharp and deadly is its high pitched little roar.

Small dragons are still dragons.

There is both precision and wildness in this dragon who consumes a fine, perfect line of wood, cleanly severing into two what was once a member of a whole forest family. Ruthless. Fearless. Powerful. Beautiful.

This is only the little woodshop dragon. A wonder of wonders must be the one in the blacksmith’s fire!

Here, there be dragons.

Shepherd’s String Band

Our church has, thanks to massive amounts of previously undiscovered talent, added not one but TWO additional choirs to our music department. And this is a congregation that only worships about 40-50 people a week. Who knew we’d even have a ‘music department’? Most notably is the fact that there are no overlapping members–no one is in more than one of the choirs.

Last Sunday in July we had our traditional 5th Sunday covered dish lunch and the Guitar Choir played for us. I’d never heard of or even considered such a thing as a guitar choir. It is awesome! They played I’ll Fly Away, Do Lord, Tennesse Waltz and a few other standards.

We also now have a Handbell Choir as well, and they are equally as awesome, too! They’ve played in worship twice and it’s just lovely.

We’re having our annual Octoberfest the first Saturday in October but this year we’re going to add music from all of our choirs and…. it is rumored… there may even be a flute player in there somewhere. I am to shoot photos of the guitar choir tomorrow evening and make an appointment for the bells sometime soon. It’s my job to do the publicity and such, so I’m really hoping lots of people from the community will come.

Where do you spend your money?

Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with a friend about books. Not just reading books but also where to buy them. She was lamenting the plight of our local independent bookseller and how she does not see how they can compete with Amazon and B&N and that she, who is a big ‘buy local’ kinda person, has given in and ordered from Amazon quite a bit. Because money is tight. Because there is free shipping. Because it is 40% off.

Well, money is tight for all of us, that is for certain. But here is a different way to put things in perspective. When money is tight for everyone, and with the exception of the super-rich, it is tight for all of us, we tend to think we have less buying power. Well, we do have less money to buy stuff with, that’s a mathematical reality. But that also means every cent is more powerful in its affect upon the world around us.

This is far easier to see in non-profit areas, such as the church. During the fat times, people can give to multiple charities and it is not as much of a strain. The choice of who you wish to support is not as difficult to make. But, during the lean times, tougher choices have to be made. Do you give to your local congregation? Disaster relief? The arts? World Wildlife? Etc etc. Every dollar has to be thought through and its destination carefully chosen. In turn, each dollar is prized more by the recipient because there simply isn’t as much to go around and you know that if your organization received the donation it was far more likely that the support was genuine, deep and abiding. Organizations in the non-profit field stand or fall in lean times based not on services provided to the money sources but on the quality of life they represent or purpose and meaning they espouse.

Same thing is true of for-profit businesses. Each dollar we spend during the lean times has an impact upon which companies stand or fall.

As of late, there have been many pleas for Americans to revive their interest in choosing to buy American made products over those made in other countries. This is important for the very reason I just stated: each dollar has greater weight, goes farther and has more lasting impact in the lean times. I contend that we need to examine something else which is, most likely, even greater in significance: who are you buying from?

Extra discounts, free shipping and the like are all so very tempting. But what are we supporting? Better said, what are we choosing not to support? I’ll confess that I have an Amazon wish list and there are things I still order from them. But not books. I am slowly whittling away at my book list by ordering them one at a time from City Lights Books here in town. And the same is true for any gift or item I need. If it is at all possible, I will buy it from a locally owned business in the town where I live. If I can, I’ll buy it from someone who made it themselves.

Recently, I purchased an oil lamp for the frequent times the power goes out in this area. I could have gone to Wal-mart and gotten one for fairly cheap, but I went to the local hardware store instead. I chose to buy the same lantern, which was moderately more, and a smaller bottle of oil than I would have purchased at the big store. In the end, I spent the same amount I would have at Wal-mart and ended up with the same lantern and less oil. I’ve used the lantern several times and still haven’t run out of oil, so I didn’t even need the larger bottle I would have purchased at the store where I would have gotten a “better deal”. Wal-mart doesn’t really care that I did not buy from them. The hardware store does.

I may buy fewer books, bottles of oil, odds and ends and smaller portions of the necessities, but I want the money I do spend on these items to help the survival of a local business owner. Is it better for me to be able to buy as much as I want in a gluttony of false purchasing power, or is it better to moderately purchase and do so in such a way that it supports people who live in my own town? Amazon, Wal-mart, B&N and all the other big box companies will not feel the loss of my dollars but the local businesses here will feel their addition. They are investments in the future of their companies and, in no small way, investments in the local communities.

Here’s some other interesting information from the 3/50 Project:

If half the employed population spent $50 each month in locally owned independent businesses, it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue. For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, etc. (and that’s true whether the item you purchase was made in the USA or China or anywhere else, for that matter.) If you spend the same $100 at a national chain store, only $43 stays in the community. If you spend it online, NOTHING returns to the community. Get That? NOTHING. Not A Penny.

So buy a book from your independent bookseller, tools and supplies from your local hardware, cards and gifts from the little shop on the corner, eat at the small owner-operated restaurant, and get produce from the farmer’s market. Use the power of our fewer dollars to invest in local businesses and in our own community.

City, Crepes And Yumminess

Finally got to eat at City Lights Cafe and it was delicious!  Actually, I’ve eaten there twice this week. That’s how much I liked it.

Some years ago, I went to Paris with my boyfriend and got engaged at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I did not end up getting married and this is a long story for another time that only intersects my current topic at one point: crepes. While in Paris, we ate so much delicious food! I don’t care what they say about how French women stay skinny–they’ve got to all be bulimic because you could not live in a place with food that good and not eat All The Time. One of the last restaurants we visited was a creperie. It had some sort of horse stable theme and it was the only place we actually encountered French people who were impolite. But Oh! The Crepes! Savory and sweet with every kind of imaginable yumminess inside.

And City Lights Cafe has crepes that approach the goodness of these crepes I had in Paris without all the irritating Frenchyness. For lunch today I had a savory Italian Chicken Crepe that had grilled chicken, fresh spinach and a lovely-and-not-too-heavy pesto cream sauce. All wrapped up in a light and delicious crepe! But who could stop with just one? I also had a sweet crepe with brie and raspberry.

On Sunday I had a creamy chicken salad sandwich with swiss cheese and a sweet crepe with dark chocolate and sliced strawberries. Oh yeah, it was every bit as good as you’re thinking it would be.

There are some things that set this incarnation of the restaurant below City Lights Bookstore apart from the previous two. I say previous two because that’s all I have experienced. There have been more in the past. For one thing, you order at the counter when you come in rather than your server taking your order at the table. This sets the casual mood and it also has a bit of buzz about it when you come it. Sure, no one wants to wait, but a bit of milling about at the entrance does make things seem more intriguing. For another, the atmosphere itself seems less pretentious. Ok, not that all the previous restaurants here were really super pretentious, but it’s a restaurant in an old house and in Charlotte (where I was born and raised) restaurants in cute little old houses are pretentious. And this one is not.

There are also other aspects of the menu I have not yet explored, including a variety of coffee and coffee type beverages, Mexican Coke (which is made with cane sugar and not corn syrup), wine (which I’m not clear if it is served or only sold by the bottle) and our very own locally brewed Heinzelmannchen beer. There’s outside seating as well as inside and a local artist’s work on display. And, of course last but most assuredly not least is City Lights Bookstore upstairs which still is one of my favorite places in town.

Also, they are open seven days a week–that means they are open on Monday and it always seems like no one is open on Monday around here.

I’ll be going back again soon. And you should too.

New Year

Happy New Year. No exclamation point. Just happy new year. It’s not that I am not excited about it. I’m just not feeling like shouting about it.  I will leave that to everyone else and perhaps I’ll feel more like shouting later.

New Year’s resolutions or plans or whatever for the upcoming year have always been a fun and at least partially productive activity for me. So, here goes:

1. Loose weight.  Yeah, I know, it’s cliche. I’ve tried putting it on the list with no result. I’ve tried leaving it off the list with no result. I’m back to trying it on the list again.

2. Read more. I read all the time. Books, magazines, blogs, websites, emails. All the time. It’s part of my job to read. But I miss fiction. Not just fiction but reading because I want to read. I received an autobiography by Tony Blair for Christmas that I really want to read right now….this very moment….while I’m typing.  So, resolution 2 is read more.

3. See more movies. Silly by some people’s standards but movies have always been a truly joyful part of my life. Over the past few years I have not been able to see as many mostly because I do not have as many people with which to see them. I shall persevere and see more this year.

4. Go to the gym. Yeah, I know, again. It could be related to item 1 but it’s actually not. I need to start going to the gym again or I’ll go crazy.

5. Blog more. I currently have four personal blogs and one church blog. I love them. They are a fantastic outlet for words and pictures. I love where I live and write about it here. I love to take pictures and post them at Mental Scrapbook. I love to make things and give them away and post about that at Random Act of Grace and I love to talk about God, the church and all kinds of stuff to which they relate and I post about them at Shepherdess Writes. I want to do more consistent writing, more book reviews and share more photography.

6. Make more stuff. This is perhaps the most fulfilling part of my life. I’m sure some psychologist would say it’s because I don’t have children. Ok. I don’t care, maybe it is. But I love it and I’ve felt better, healthier, less stressed and more creative the more I make. So that includes knitting, sewing, photography and mixed media projects.

7. Spend less time playing games on Facebook. I will not say ‘spend less time on Facebook’ because my dearest friends live all over the country and if I want to remain connected to them I need to do something like FB.  I am not good at making phone calls. I actually do not like the phone. But FB works. Just want to stay away from those time-sucking games. I would say spend less time watching TV but unlike a whole lot of people, I really watch very little.

8. Find a clock with more than 24 hours in it. Seriously, I’ll need to if I want to do more of these things.

9. See my life as a treasure. Wanting more than 24 hours in a day can be for one of two reasons: 1-poor time management and too much to do. 2-life is so good and full and purposeful that you just plain want more of it every single day.   I want it to be the latter.

10. Spend more time with people. I spend a lot of professional time with people but I don’t really spend personal time. It is ironic because very little of my life has hard boundary lines but this seems to be one of the areas in which I make some sort of bright line between personal and professional time so I feel the professional time tank is low and the personal time tank is too full. Out of balance. Like carrying two buckets of water when one is really heavy and one is really light. Need to share more from the heavy bucket.

Ok, it is a pretty lame, pretty ordinary set of resolutions. But you know what? I’m ok with that.  I’ve spent a lot of my life being unintentionally not so ordinary.  The truth is that I can’t save the world (even one relationship at a time), I can’t undo the past mistakes I’ve made, I can’t undo the things that have happened to me, can’t start a revolution or even stop the negative ideas of someone else. But I can do something about me. Here and now.

So I’m posting this, going over to someone’s house to drink Mimosas and this evening I’m opening that Tony Blair book. It’s a start.