Thursday, July 28, 2016

Waking Up White: Thursday's Reflection

Yes, at times reading Waking Up White And Finding Myself in
the Story of Race by Debby Irving felt like an assignment. More than once when I slotted time for reading, I first turned to a novel selected for pleasure and when I did pick up my "assignment," I could only read two or three chapters in one sitting. The problem wasn't long chapters nor was the problem that the book isn't well-written. It is not only well-written, but it is profoundly thought-provoking, and that was the problem. 

Did I really want to uncover all the ways I have lived so unconsciously in my bubble of privilege? (It's a BIG bubble, by the way.) Do I really want to work hard to change the way I think and interact? Do I really want to engage in such massive and long-lived problems and run the risk of offending others and more than likely embarrass myself? Truth be told, not so much. 

Reading this book became a "should" in my life. A "should" just at the chapter in my life when I am letting go of any number of "shoulds" I have imposed on myself. 

Our congregation selected this book as its "Summer Read," and a number of groups are meeting throughout the summer to discuss it, as they continue reading it. I opted not to do that, not wanting another obligation, I told myself. But really I didn't want to work so hard and the kind of learning and conversations about this kind of learning is work. And takes courage. Opportunities to discuss the book will continue into the fall, so it's not too late, and I intend to participate. 

Now that I have finally finished reading it, I feel as if I need to turn to page one and begin reading it all over again. My first reading awakened me to my white privilege--something I have previously only understood as a vague concept out there, but I am beginning to understand how I have been wrapped in that privilege all my life. I am beginning to listen differently, to see differently, but trust me, this is a process, and I have a long way to go to change how I have always understood the way of the world. 

I could quote many lines and share many stories from this book, but instead I implore you to read this book yourself--to discover yourself in this book. (Interestingly, I just realize my assumption that my audience is white. Now what do I do about that?) And when you have finished it, encourage someone else to read it and then have a conversation about it. 

This morning I read an article, "Waking Up to Whiteness" by a Zen Buddhist priest Gary Snyder and he gave me a way to begin to integrate what I am uncovering in myself and my white world.
                   When we notice our minds assuming anything
                    about anyone based on race, we can stop doing
                    whatever we are doing, note that the thought has
                    occurred, and allow the realization that our mind
                    is conditioned racially to fully sink in before 
                    moving on. It is important to keep in mind that
                    taking responsibility here looks like upright
                    resolve, not self condemnation.

Slowing down, waking up, noticing and being aware is a good place to start. 

An Invitation
Read this book. I would love to know what rises within you. 

Waking Up White by Debby Irving
Gloria Dei Summer Read
Waking Up to Whiteness by Gary Snyder 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Strength: Tuesday's Reflection

One weekend this spring Bruce's sister, who lives in Omaha, visited us. Her hobby is photography, and one of her favorite subjects is birds. We decided to take her to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha and invited our eight year old grandson Peter to go with us. When we picked him up for the day's excursion, he was all prepared. In his backpack he had his binoculars, a notebook, pen, and a guidebook about raptors, which I bought him a couple years ago when we went to the University of Minnesota Raptor Center. He had decided, by the way, all on his own what he wanted to bring with him.

As we drove to the center, which is located on the Mississippi River a couple hours away, Peter shared some facts about raptors. Facts such as their size and how long they typically live and what they eat and how their numbers have greatly increased in North America in recent years. He also told us that his favorite species of eagle is the golden eagle, and he hoped to see one at the center. He wondered if there are species other than the golden and the bald in North America, and we encouraged him to ask one of the center's volunteers that question. He did just that and we learned no, there are only two in our part of the world, but there are about 60 species throughout the whole world. None of us knew that, nor did any of us even know to ask that question. 

At one point Papa asked Peter a question about eagles. I'm sorry I don't remember the question, but that's not really important anyway.  

I could hear Peter sigh. A long, deep sigh, and then he said very clearly, very deliberately, "Papa, raptors are NOT my strength." 

Of course, we then asked him to name his strength for us and without hesitation he said, "Wolves." That's true, for he knows nearly all there is to know about wolves.

I love this story and have told it many times since, for while it reveals a great deal about Peter, it is also a story that begs for a deep inner response from the listener. This is a spiritual story.  

Do you know what is not your strength and may even be a weakness? Are you willing to admit that? And what are you doing about a part of yourself that is not your strength? Are you like Peter studying a guidebook and asking questions, hoping to learn more and add to what you already know? 

Do you know your strength and are you willing to name that or are you carrying around false modesty in your backpack? What good is your strength doing hidden away? 

What experiences in your life have helped you develop your strength? When have you been called upon to use your strength, to live your strength? In what ways have you deliberately chosen to exercise your strength? 

And here's another question to consider: Has there ever been a time when your strength has been a detriment? Remember there is a shadow side to everything. Peter was more than willing to share his knowledge with us, but he did so without making us feel stupid for not knowing what he knew, nor was he showing off. His curiosity and interest led him to learn about raptors and wolves. His strength operates in the light. 

Part of becoming the person we were created to be is being able to identify our strengths and our weaknesses and to understand how they function and guide the way we live in the world.  

An Invitation
What are your strengths? What are you weaknesses? I would love to know. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Convention Distraction: Thursday's Post

I can't recall the last time I watched the Republican National Convention, but this year I decided I need to hear firsthand what was said, instead of relying on day after reports.

Part of this decision was recalling how often there is a rallying cry to ban a specific book without first reading the book. I need to "read" this convention. 

I knew, however, it would be hard to listen and watch without raising my blood pressure. I knew I would be tempted to talk back to what I was hearing, so I planned ahead. I thought about what I could do to maintain calm and be present to the speeches and commentary. 

I got out my big set of colored pencils and a new coloring book, The Inspired Home, pages of home decor sketches, and settled in with PBS for the long haul. 

I forced myself to keep coloring when I heard the mother of the Navy Seal who had died in the line of duty demand to see Hillary in stripes or to join in the chant "Hillary for Prison." I tried to send her compassion for her deep loss and to acknowledge the pain she feels. I kept coloring as speaker after speaker raised their voices "against" rather than "for."

I found I could listen if I focused on choosing a color and then slowly and deliberately filling in a blank space. I could listen if I didn't have to look at the speakers who seem like ordinary people, but at the same time seem to harbor such hate and fear. I admit I almost gave up during Governor Chris Christie's speech as he encouraged the crowd's response, "Lock her up," to his litany of unfactual crimes. How is that helpful? How does that "Make American Great" again? 

I am grateful for the measured and insightful words, questions and historical perspectives of Judy Woodruff, Gwen Iffil, David Brooks, Amy Walter, Mark Shields, and others. And they managed to do all that without a coloring book for calming distraction.  

I don't often write about current events in this blog, especially political events, and I know I risk offending some of my readers. If that is the case, I hope you will be willing to watch the Democratic National Convention from beginning to end. Coloring helps!

I am writing this on Wednesday before the evening coverage begins. I need to convince myself to stay the course. Tonight maybe I will iron, instead of color, but the intention will be the same. To listen and become informed. To send compassion when I can. To try to understand. To open to ways I can respond. 

An Invitation
In what ways can watching the conventions be a spiritual practice? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Driving Home: Tuesday's Reflection

When my husband was in medical school at St Louis University in
!973: Bruce and I during our St Louis Years
the early 70's, I taught English at Webster Groves High School, an inner ring suburb of St Louis. Those were good years, the first years of our marriage and a chance to grow together away from home. And a chance to broaden our horizons and experience something beyond our all-white, Scandinavian based culture. 

I no longer recall what percentage of Webster's students were African American, but today the school would be labelled "diverse." For the most part I had a good relationship with my African American students, and I enjoyed learning about them and their life and in many cases their struggles beyond the normal adolescent ones. But I also know I brought into the classroom my white expectations and my white views --and my white fears. 

Lately, I have been thinking about an experience I had then that could have turned out quite differently if it happened today. 

I left school later than usual, and because it was winter, it was already dark. The parking lot was almost empty when I got into my car to head back to our apartment about twenty minutes away. We lived near Washington University, a neighborhood in the city of St Louis with mainly old apartment buildings, an integrated neighborhood, which we enjoyed. 

When I made the first turn once out of the parking lot, I noticed a car behind me, but didn't think anything about it until I realized each time I turned the driver in the car made the same turn. The driver was a Black man, as was his passenger. I became increasingly nervous the further away I was from Webster Groves and the closer I got to our apartment. 

I turned. He turned. I sped up, so did he. I was sure I was being followed, and I tried not to think about why, but I was nervous. 

I devised a plan. I would leave my books and purse in the car and make a run for it when I got to our block. I had a whistle on my key chain for such emergencies, and I would use it. 

Amazingly, when I got home, there was a parking spot right across the street from the three-floor flat where we lived. I pulled in and prepared to dash when the car that had been following me pulled up right next to me, and the passenger rolled down his window and motioned to me. 

The car was close enough to mine that I couldn't open my door. I considered sliding over to my passenger side and getting out that way, but instead, for whatever reason, I rolled down my window, too. 

"Hi, Ms A. We saw you leave school, and we know you live in a tough neighborhood. We decided to make sure you got home ok."

Yes, these two "scary" black men were actually two of my students. I thanked them for the escort and said I would see them in school the next day and told them to go home and do their homework. 

Recently, I have thought about how their generous concern for me could have turned out differently today.  In the 70's we didn't have cellphones or car phones, but today if I thought I was being followed, I would use my phone to call 911. The police would have come and these two youths would have been questioned at best and at worst….. I shudder to think about what could have happened based on my assumptions. And my fear. 

Those boys, if they are still alive, are men not that much younger than me, and I wonder where they are now. What has been their life experience since then? I wonder how they are reacting to all the recent events and what they are saying to their children and grandchildren. 

I was their teacher, but they were mine as well. 

An Invitation
When have your fears turned out to be unnecessary and even based on false assumptions? I would love to know. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Turning Towards Morning: Thursday's Reflection

One evening we were walking in a nearby neighborhood, and I
noticed these words carved on a gate:

          The world is always turning
          towards morning.

Sometimes that thought is not easily apparent or remembered. That's when we need reassurance. 

               Every twenty-four hours 
               includes morning.

               Every night time is followed
               by morning.

Think about a time when you felt clouded with confusion, pierced by pain or submerged in sadness. Now recall when those murky moments lifted, maybe not completely, but remember when you noticed hints of light. I suspect there has been more than one time when you re-discovered morning.

Remembering the light does not mean keeping your eyes closed, hiding under the covers and keeping the blinds pulled until you are sure the morning has come. Nor is it enough to hoard all the light for ourselves. There is more than enough morning light to go around. 

My prayer for our nation is that we can wake up and find ways to understanding, connection and wholeness. My prayer is that we may move from mourning to morning. 

Yes, the world is always turning towards the morning, but each of us can be part of making the morning shine brighter and clearer. 

An Invitation
Another favorite truth is "nothing changes if nothing changes." What are you willing to do to create change, a change that illuminates the darkness? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Tough Week: Tuesday's Reflection

Vigil at St Paul Reformation Church
I live in St Paul, and we have had our share of tough news this last week. A friend emailed me, "Even in St Paul." Yes, here, too. We are definitely not immune to racism and its painful results. 

Sunday morning I needed church, and I was grateful to be in a church community where the tough days are addressed and not brushed away with platitudes or easy answers. Our pastors struggle to bring hope without brushing away the realities, and they allow us in the pews to journey with them in their own pain and questions. 

And so we went to church, which seemed a bit more full than a normal summer Sunday in Minnesota. I think we needed to share space with others. We needed to pray together, to sit quietly and listen. We also needed to delight in new life. How perfect it was to celebrate the baptism of three gorgeous babies. We needed those babies yesterday!

In the afternoon we went to church again--this time a vigil service at St Paul Reformation Church, which is located only a block away from the school where Philando Castille worked, but is also close to the Governor's Mansion where there have been and continue to be demonstrations. Presiding Bishop for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Elizabeth Eaton spoke, and I appreciated her response to the question, "Is our country breaking apart or waking up?" She pointed out that some parts need to be broken off--the parts that prevent all people from experiencing peace and justice. But she certainly affirmed that this is a time in which we need to wake up, and we need to listen to each other. 

Where do you go when you need to process upsetting, unsettling events? Do you have a community, faith or otherwise, where it is not only safe to grapple with the hard questions, but it is expected and honored? With whom do you dig deep? Where do you find new perspectives and new insights? 

Where do you find peace? Bishop Eaton said there are many kinds of peace and perhaps not all are helpful when we desperately need change. Peace can sometimes mean apathetic status quo in which we allow ourselves to be untouched. Or as my mother often requested, "Let's just have happy talk."

I mean the kind of peace that is based on love and respect and openness and a desire for wholeness. The kind of peace that knows we are all one.  

An Invitation
Where is your community of peace? I hope you have one and if you don't, what are you willing to do to find or create one? I would love to know. 

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
St Paul Reformation Church

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Kitchen Thoughts: Thursday's Reflection

One morning this week I made a dinner to take to a woman in our church who is having a round of chemotherapy. 

I enjoy cooking, but so often by the time dinner time arrives I am tired from everything else I have done during the day, and my goal is to throw something together that won't take lots of time or effort.  Mornings in the kitchen are different, however. And cooking for someone else adds to the pleasure as well. 

As I chopped and measured and mixed, I realized I was praying and giving thanks and also allowing thoughts and memories to hover above the counter. 

I prayed for healing for the woman who would receive this dinner, but I also prayed for all those who are in need of support during crisis times. I gave thanks for all those who respond to the call to help and for all those who live into new health. I prayed for those who dwell in uncertainty and for those who struggle to accept new realities. 

I remembered when I benefited from the gift of meals. When I recovered from cancer surgery many years ago and more recently when I healed from a broken ankle. I thought about the many angels who have flown into my life bringing love and support--and gifts of food. 

I thought about the kitchens I have known--the big and the small. The views from the windows: our gardens at Sweetwater Farm, the rooftops in Middleton and now our backyard rapidly becoming another garden paradise. I remembered Boe, our lab mix of a loveable dog, who liked positioning himself on the floor between me and the sink. Somehow I adjusted. 

I chuckled to myself realizing how I have adjusted to this small kitchen, even preferring it to the much larger kitchen in our last home. It is large enough to prepare meals for the two of us, but also more than enough when those at the table expand to four or more. I am content, and I gave thanks to be able to say that.

The day outside the kitchen looked full. I would deliver the meal, but also had a number of writing tasks that would take energy and time. Somehow, however, after the morning kitchen reverie, mixing prayer time with food preparation time, I felt more at ease, more open. More grateful. 

An Invitation
When can you add prayer time to your day? I would love to know. 



Tuesday, July 5, 2016

July 5th: Tuesday Reflections

Yes, we have flown our flag this past holiday weekend. We have
done so with love and pride, but also with hope for a future in which we continue to open our doors and welcome all those who need shelter and stability. I hope for a future in which we are not consumed by our own wellbeing, but work to maintain the integrity of all people and the beauty of the entire planet. 

Sunday in church we sang a wonderful hymn, "This is My Song," also called "A Hymn of Peace." The uplifting music is by Jean Sibelius, based on his "Finlandia," and the words are by two different writers. Stanzas 1 and 2 are by Lloyd Stone who wrote them during the period between WWI and WWII when he was 22. The other stanzas are by a Methodist theologian, Georgia Harkness. 

Here are stanzas one, two, and four. 

               This is my song, O God of all the nations,
               a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
               this is my home, the country where my heart is;
               here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
               but other hearts in other lands are beating
               with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

               My country's skies are bluer than the ocean
               and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
               but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
               and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
               O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
               a song of peace for their land and for mine.

               May truth and freedom come to every nation;
               may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
               that each may seek to love and build together,
               a world united, righting every wrong;
               a world united in its love for freedom,
               proclaiming peace together in one song. 

Consider these words as you listen to or read the news. And as we  approach the presidential conventions.

An Invitation
What words are inspiring you these days? I would love to know.