Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Reminder: "I disagree" and "I hope you die" Are Not The Same Thing

Ya'll...we need to have a talk. Because somehow "freedom of speech" in the age of social media has led to an entirely new definition of the term. Somehow, now, if you disagree with me then you can hide behind your computer and say the most awful things imaginable and congratulate yourself on your use of the First Amendment.

Let's be clear...
"I disagree with your opinion"
"I hope you die"
are not the same thing.

And whether you like it or not...
This is not what the Framers meant 
when they wrote:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The Framers wrote the Declaration shouting to the King and the world that they would no longer be ruled by an oppressive government. They wrote the Bill of Rights as a way to protect citizens from being oppressed. Somehow, in today's culture, we have moved from the ideology of a "freedom from" to an ideology of "freedom to". Our freedom of speech was never meant to give us the right to say anything without consequences but to guarantee us the right to question and even criticize our government without fear of imprisonment or worse. 

Furthermore, thanks to the cultural shift from "freedom from" to "freedom to" we find ourselves in a place where the freedom to do something and the right to do something are not the same thing. Does this Twitter Troll have the freedom to call me names? Absolutely. Does he have the right? No, no he doesn't. We see the same thing over and over in our society today. "Freedom of Speech" being used to demean people, culture, etc. Media objectifying women. Attacking people when they disagree with us...or disagree with a leader we support. We have the freedom to do so but we do not have the right. We never have the right to strip someone of their humanity, their dignity, their imago dei. No matter what freedoms we think we have to do so...we simply do not have the right. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

My Next To Normal

Because I am a glutton for punishment...an emotional masochist if you will...I actually watched Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, talked to my Mom, and then caught up on This Is Us in the same day. I then ate my feelings. I should have colored but old habits die hard.

I haven't talked to my Mom in months. The last time was on her birthday. It was a short conversation. It ended when my Mom said "I don't have anything else to say". Since the last time she and I talked, the show I was directing came and went, my granddaughter was born, I became homeless, a church that I had only heard of in passing paid to fix my car and friends who cared offered me a place to stay. She didn't ask me about Trey, who has been on deployment. She didn't ask about Embree, how her marriage was, about the baby. We talked about her being sick (cold). When she asked how I was, I wasn't sure what all she knew so I said "better". She caught that and asked so I downplayed all of it. Then I offered her information about the kids, Avi, etc.

My Mom never offers up "I miss you".
I say it, then she says it...but with a caveat...she doesn't miss the now me. She misses the 16 year old me, the 18 year old me, maybe even the 22 year old me. She misses the me when she felt better. When she says she misses me then always references it back to those times, what she means is she misses her. Don't get me wrong, I totally understand. I miss her too.

I want to be hurt...I am hurt, but logic tells me that's ridiculous because she doesn't mean it. I want to be mad. But who is there to be mad at? Can you be mad at mental illness? Can you personalize it and kick the shit out of it for taking away your Mom? Can you scream at it? Yell? Reason with it? Would it care if you could? Or would you just be wasting your breath?

There's this line in the musical Next To Normal during a song that shows her trying to get her meds back on track where she says "I don't feel like myself. I mean, I don't feel anything" And the doctor notes in her file "Patient stable."

I'm glad my Mom is stable. But I miss her. There are so many things I wish, that I regret. I think at one time my Mom may have made the effort but the meds and the illness made it too much to fight for...and to be honest, I stopped fighting too. It's hard to fight a battle you can't win, especially when there are so many others to be fought.

I hope she knows I love her though. I think she does

I think I'm going to have some pie.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Nagini & Election Results

Confession (a somewhat embarrassing one)...I am afraid of snakes. Not the real, found in nature snakes...but like the imaginary, demonic, larger than life snakes you see in fantasy movies, horror movies, etc. It started when I was a teenager and I had recurring nightmares about these snakes coming after me. They were so real that even today, after all this time, I can conjure up images from the dreams. I went to my pastor and told him about the dream and he told me it was Satan after me. So, I was scared before...and scared shitless after. Now logically I know and my kids know that these fears are unfounded and silly...but my kids are still going to hold my hand every time Nagini comes on the screen. They love me so they understand and do what they can.

For those confused about who Nagini is...
I've been hearing a lot of talk after the elections about how the fears of POC, the LGBTQ community etc aren't valid. People blame the media or panic or political correctness or whatever. They dismiss the fears and tell people "get over it" But that isn't helpful. First of all, there are valid reasons for fears. There is a historic precedence that "Make America Great" means trouble for POC. Cornel West says any time a white man says "Make America great again" they are coming for the black man. You may disagree but I'd encourage you to research Nixon's "War On Drugs" and the effect of Reaganomics before you disagree too vehemently. However, just for the sake of argument...let's say you are right. Let's say the fears are unfounded...

What exactly does it help for you to dismiss those fears?

Regardless of whether they are founded on fact are not, they are real fears. And you telling someone to get over them doesn't help. In fact, since they are afraid that they are going to be unheard or unnoticed, you are actually compounding their fears. Their feelings are just as important as yours and if you want to be heard, so do they...so instead of turning your back, try taking their hand.

I promise you if Trey told me Nagini wasn't real, it wouldn't help. I'd still jump. My adrenaline would still rush. I'd still have to close my eyes. He doesn't tell me that. He takes my hand. He may chuckle at me but he is still with me and for me and that is what makes the difference.

I suspect that if you do that...if you symbolically or actually take the hand of someone for whom the election results have caused some very real fears, your perspective will actually change. If you sit and listen to them in a posture of being with and for them, you will hear things that will make you uncomfortable and probably change your worldview. Would that change your vote? I don't know. But it will change your heart. And it may make them less afraid.

Show Me (a story of coming to faith)

I didn't come to Christ (what a churchy term ya'll!) exactly willingly. I didn't come to Him with a smile on my face. I wasn't like C.S. Lewis or Lee Strobel who looked at it both intelligently and emotionally and-after a search-came to accept Him as real and Savior.

I was sort of dragged a certain distance and then crawled the rest of the way in desperation.

Glennon Doyle Melton said in her book Carry On Warrior, that people who need help often look a lot like people who don't need help. My 16 year old self was very much like that. People knew as much or as little about me as I wanted them to...at some points I had been prone to lie but the problem with lying is I suck at it. For example, when I moved back to live with my mother and made new friends who didn't know anything about me, I told them my father had died rather than tell them he was in prison for vehicular homicide and that we didn't have a relationship. One day two of them came over to my house, where-as soon as we walked in the door-my mother told me I had a letter from my Dad. It was one of two that he would write me while he was in prison (I didn't answer either). I wasn't even aware that he had my address and I was pretty much more focused on the fact he had ratted me out to my friends than wondering at how he had managed it. So I learned, rather than making things up, just to hide them. There were friends who knew...one because I trusted her and others who were smart enough to know that a girl who had mood swings like I did wasn't quite as together as she pretended. But I had friends, got really good grades, my teachers loved me, I was involved in after school activities that would have looked great on my college resume had I actually gotten to go. (I did go...just not when you normally do...after high school. I was a Mom before I was a college student. Which might be a good thing...no time for keg parties.)

But the truth was, at 16, I was a mess. I had been through physical, emotional and sexual abuse. I was the child of addicts. My Grandma, who provided love and stability (though I didn't exactly appreciate it at the time) had died of cancer. I was angry and depressed and hurt and...sometimes I was all the emotions at once and sometimes I just had crazy mood swings (to be fair, I was also a teenager...mood swings come with the territory). I was angry at a lot of people, but I was mostly angry at God. Not only had He seriously shafted me on the childhood thing, He'd also broken our "deal".

Several years before that, when my Grandma was sick, I had started attending church at Elam Baptist Church...I can't remember exactly why I went the first time. I was living with my aunt and uncle by then because my Grandma's cancer had progressed to the point where taking care of me was difficult (Let's be real, taking care of me had been difficult before then. When she got sick, it was intolerable) I remember a van picked us up, that my cousin had started going with some of his friends...and I might have decided to go just to annoy them. But somewhere in the message I heard, I came to understand that God made everything better. That if you were a good Christian, life was good. I am not sure if that was the message that was preached or that is the message I heard. I am smarter these days and listen better and sometimes that is still the message so either is possible. Anyway, it sounded good. I made a deal with God. I became a "good Christian" and He cured my Grandma. After everything else I'd heard He had done, curing cancer in one woman sounded pretty easy.

He didn't do it. He didn't cure her. She died. I remember one of my family members saying God had to bring her to Heaven because He needed someone who could cook biscuits. (Note: never try to explain death to a young person by telling them God needed a cook.) That further sealed the deal that God was both selfish and uninterested and-because He'd broken our deal, not to be trusted.

So, at 16, broken and hurt...I didn't lean on God or anyone else for that matter except my best friend from time to time...and then we moved. We moved closer to my maternal grandparents. My Mom had not been doing well and needed a change and a better support system. We'd been living in Sandersville for a couple of months when my uncle convinced my Mom to go to church. Next thing I know, she was going a lot...to a "revival". I wasn't sure what was being revived but I was pretty ticked. My Mom had taken the 96 Rock tag off the car and was living this whole new life. My Mom had her issues but she was cool. And now...but she was happier. I'd have probably been happier for her but somehow, someone decided that if I didn't want to go to this "revival" then I could babysit my cousins and sister. Three days of that and I decided I'd rather go to church.

It was a Pentecostal church. And the only seats available for all of us were in the front row. I was beyond surly. I'm pretty sure the black cloud hanging over me was obvious to everyone. We took our seats. I rolled my eyes (backwards to the stone age...I was full of attitude). The musicians started singing. I felt... I felt... I fe...

Okay, time to get churchy again because what I felt was the presence of the Holy Spirit even though I wasn't exactly aware of it. I knew God was close. Which wasn't cool because I'd basically come to believe (or profess to believe which is not always the same thing) that God was not real and if He was, I didn't want anything to do with Him. And yet, here we were. The service wasn't even to the preaching part...in fact, it was probably like the third song...and I was having a confrontation with God. It wasn't until later that I would read the stories of Job, Jacob and David wrestling with God, but I understood the concept. I didn't cry out "Lord" like Paul...I issued a challenge.

"God, if you are real, show me."

I don't know what I was expecting...angels or natural disasters or what. I got, tears. I started crying. My evidence of God was a rush of emotion...mourning, anger, joy. And He was in all of it. I cried the entire time. I didn't hear the altar call but my uncle asked me if I wanted to go and I nodded my head and I stayed down there so long they had to pick me up and help my legs unbend. It wasn't just a feeling of emotion but also of a letting go. It was the most unexpected thing but also exactly what I needed.

I was thinking about that today. As I wrote in my prayer journal. As I told God that the hole I currently found myself in still feels incredibly deep but not insurmountable. I spent time thinking through all the times that God had shown me His realness, not always in the way I expect...not always in the way I want (seriously God, can I somehow just win the lottery...or someone win the lottery and share with me since I don't actually play???) but always in the way I need.

Last Tuesday I thought the answer to what I view as a threat to our nation was Hillary Clinton becoming President but that didn't happen. A few weeks before that I thought divine intervention would somehow stop me from becoming homeless, but that didn't happen either. But God is still real and He is still showing me. I don't challenge Him to prove it anymore. I don't have to. I don't tend to make deals with Him either (though the temptation is there). He took a 16 year old hurting girl's prayer to "show me" as it honestly was...not a challenge but a cry for help.

So these days, I'm smarter and I just ask Him for help. It might benefit me to be a little smarter and ask others for help but that's a whole different issue for another post.

The thing is, I think we think there are certain ways to come to God. Certain words to say whether we are saying "You are Savior" or "My world is on fire and I need rescuing". But there aren't. The Bible says when we don't know how to pray, the Holy Spirit translates our groans. If you need God to show you, then ask...be like Hannah, so desperate you look drunk. Be like Job and demand justice. Be like David and cry out "DO YOU SEE ME?"

Or be like me and demand "Show me."

He is not the God of deals but He is God. He is here. He is present. I don't pretend to understand why things suck. As I write this, I am homeless. But as I write this someone has paid for me and my son's dog to stay in a motel for three more nights. I don't know why. I just know I'm not alone. He's been showing me that for almost thirty years now.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Racism, Fears, and our President-Elect

I am going to attempt something, rather nervously. I don't think I am the most qualified but I attended a rather timely performance last week that talked about unity and compassion and stepping into spaces, so I'm going to step in it. Having been mansplained and "educated" over the last two days, I'm also a little worried about how my tone will be taken so please understand that I am "saying" this in a tone that simply hopes to convey information and hopefully provide understanding.
I am seeing a number of "I'm not racist" posts as well as posts that dismiss the fears of POC rather than understanding them on social media. I am hoping I can provide some insight, not from my own experience but from what I've learned from others so that the hurt, anger and fear we are seeing can be addressed. And so we will not only remind people who are scared that God is on the throne but that we stand with them.
1) David Duke called Trump's win "the greatest day of his life" and exalted in the part the KKK had in his election. Perhaps you don't believe Trump is racist (I'll address that in a moment) but you cannot deny that his election has empowered racist groups. And that should concern everyone. Take a look in the news to see stories of men wearing "Put The White Back In The White House" t-shirts intimidating voters at polling places in Florida, racist slurs that have been painted on LGBTQ and Muslim student associations in colleges, Middle Schoolers chanting "Build that wall", hijabs being pulled off on trains and in Wal Mart...the list goes on. We saw a similar effect in Britain after Brexit.

2) When Trump talks of minorities, he always speaks of the lowest common denominator: Mexicans are rapists, Muslims are terrorists and African Americans all live in gang ridden inner city neighborhoods smoking crack and shooting each other. He advocates for "stop and frisk" (which has been found to be unconstitutionally biased) and his language on crime is reminiscent of Nixon's "tough on crime" stance.
Highly recommend this book in learning how politics and policies created division and systemic injustice
3) The slogan "Make America Great Again" is implicitly racist. There is a bias there that most white, heterosexual, Christian Americans don't get. It hearkens back to the times of the 40's and 50's when life seemed simpler and the American Dream more attainable but it leaves out the injustice and horror that POC were living in during that time. We are longing for days linked with Jim Crow laws, lynching, prejudiced housing policies that were to blame for the creation of ghettos. While I understand that isn't what is meant, that's a perception issue and gets into white privilege (which a lot of people don't even want to admit exists). If we were to include all Americans, a better slogan would be "Make America Great".

You can disagree with these things but you are basing your disagreement on your experience while the POC are basing it on theirs. Telling them their perceptions are wrong dismissed their feelings and the reality of the history of this country. This is not the media's fault even though they get to share some of them blame, as do both political parties. The truth is, the divide existed before, the election just pointed it out. Instead of dismissing it, understand and empathize. Try to bridge the divide. Stop saying things like "people have spoken" because the people spoke, the electoral college won. And that is fine. It is our system. But both the 2000 election and the 2016 election seem to prove that the electoral college favors Republicans which has a number of people frustrated as well.
Having been in a space of learning about systemic injustice and racial reconciliation, I believe the fears of the POC in this country to be well founded (It would take a separate post to discuss the fears of the LGBTQ community but those are real as well). I could talk further about the dismantling of the VRA and the voter suppression that happened in several states, including North Carolina but I don't mean this to be exhaustive rather than the beginnings of an understanding.
Donald Trump is our next president. I look forward to the next four years with trepidation. Our best hope is to reach out to the "others" and try to find some common ground. At the event I attended last week, Propaganda said "We've mistaken power for progress. Power elevates a select few at the expense of others. Compassion lays down power so that everyone can be elevated." It's time for compassion.