Loved by God

I have a disability — I’m a labeler.  I tend to put people in boxes and sort them — liberal, conservative, fat, skinny, rich, poor, smart, stupid, white, black…  It’s very limiting.  When I place people in a box marked ‘liberal’, for instance, a whole bunch of stuff gets stuck on them that may or may not have anything to do with them.  Same thing happens in the conservative box.  I like to hang out with people in some boxes, but not necessarily in others.  I feel comfortable getting tossed in with ‘smart’ people, but not really with ‘skinny’ people.  When I mingle with ‘black’ people I feel cool, when I mix with ‘white’ people (even though I, myself, am white) I feel boring.  I have even created boxes such as ‘too-rich’, ‘too-white’, ‘extremely conservative’, and ‘way too fat’.  Those boxes are placed on very high, or very low, shelves so that my access to them is limited.  I probably wouldn’t mix with ‘those people’ very well, now, would I?

This disability impacts the richness of my life.  It keeps me away from a variety of people, diverse opinions, and new ways of thinking. It causes me to think that I am better than those who somehow don’t fit in the same box with me. It sometimes even makes me afraid.  I mean, if I have labeled others, certainly they have labeled me.  Surely they have put me in a box full of stuff that doesn’t necessarily apply to me. They probably think that I am a rich, conservative, skinny, white lady.  I can assure you that very few of those words are accurate descriptors of me.

I hate being labeled.  I wish people would just get to know me and value me for the person I am.

But it’s kind of hard for them to do that if they are stuck in a box on a very high or very low shelf.  Isn’t it?

I guess if I want others to get to know the true ‘me’, I may have to invest in getting to know the true ‘them’.  After all, not all those I have dumped in the ‘skinny’ box have eating disorders, nor are they all models or superior athletes.  Some are just genetically thin.  Not everyone in the ‘stupid’ box is actually ‘stupid’.  In fact, probably no one that I have placed in that box is truly ‘stupid’, maybe misinformed, maybe ignorant, maybe scarred, but probably not ‘stupid’.

I think I’m going to have to recycle all my boxes and destroy my internal label-maker.  Actually, I think I could do with just one box — just one label:   Loved by God. Everyone could fit in the one box and I could hang out with everyone in there.  We all have that one thing in common — we are created by and loved by God.  It seems to me like everything else is irrelevant, don’t you agree? He created each of us.  He loves each of us.  He doesn’t rate us or sort us based on skin color, political orientation, body shape, or socio-economic status.  He looks at His kids and He loves us.

He doesn’t have a favorite.  In fact, He would love it if we all tried to share our toys and get along with one another.  He hopes that we will see Him in one another and grow to love one another.  He has created us to complement one another and to encourage one another.  Not to label one another.

Somewhere along the line, perhaps we all developed the same disability.  It’s not too late to recycle those boxes.  Any of us can change.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.

Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

He that does not love, does not know God.

I John 4:7-8

One remedy

Ahhhhh….I woke up from a restful sleep this morning and said to my husband, “It’s amazing what we take for granted, until we don’t have it for a couple of days.” I was, of course, referring to a good night’s sleep. And, I must say, it was lovely.

But then I did my usual routine of checking Facebook, email, and messages to find that once again there was an officer-involved shooting in St. Louis last night, and once again, it was racially charged.

I take living in a peaceful community for granted. I am very insulated at the moment. When I was in college, way back in the 80s, we called it ‘the Concordia bubble’.  It’s nice and shiny in here, guys. I have mentioned, ad nauseum, the river, the deer, blah, blah, blah.  We live in virtual peace with God and man inside this little bubble. When we drive down to little Gallup Park, we walk alongside people of a variety of backgrounds all smiling and nodding at one another. We pick up our messes and leave the park how we found it.  It’s eerily Utopian. When I go out for lunches, all the ladies play nice, smile, laugh, share… I don’t really experience conflict.

Yeah, it’s weird.

I mean just three months ago, I was living in the heart of pre-Ferguson St. Louis. I won’t say I experienced conflict at all. Actually I lived in my racially mixed neighborhood in relative peace. We exchanged pleasantries with neighbors, moved among people from countless backgrounds, and had very few bumps of any kind. But the tension was there to be sure. It runs like an electrical current under all of St. Louis. It would be naive to say that I was unaware. Centuries of history have bred mistrust and anger among the people in St. Louis and the electricity is tangible.

It was just a matter of time before a spark ignited the explosive emotions that people can barely keep in check. And I have to believe that that is the reason that Ferguson is not over and forgotten. Everyone there knows that the divide between blacks and whites exists. And now that the current of suspicion and hatred has been exposed, the citizens want to make sure it stays in the open. I mean, seriously, grown adults are making public statements at Cardinals games — hurtful statements in a nation-wide arena where the whole country will see. “Notice us, America, we are hurting over here and we don’t know what to do about it!”

And how is anyone, inside or outside of St. Louis, supposed to see the actual truth when years of emotion are clouding the issues? I am not able, from this distance, inside this skin, to tell you what is happening — who is right, who is wrong — but I am able to tell you that these people are hurting. They’ve been hurting for a very long time.

I would love to say that the courts will sort it all out.  But the courts are made up of humans and the courts in St. Louis are made up of hurting St. Louis humans. It’s gonna be difficult for anyone to get a fair and impartial trial at a time like this.

And really, is one trial going to solve the hurts of centuries of conflict? Would one hundred trials solve the hurts?  a thousand?

After all, no one, really, is innocent. We all have sinned. We all fall short of the glory of God. But, He has promised…”If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

It’s the only remedy that exists. And in order for it to work, everyone will have to put down their weapons, admit they’ve been wrong, and trust in something larger than themselves.  Then conversations can start and healing can begin.

be still, there is a healer

His love is deeper than the sea

His mercy is unfailing

His arms are a fortress for the weak.

Let faith arise…

–Chris Tomlin

He who watches over us doesn’t slumber, a re-visit

I wrote this piece when citizens were demonstrating in Ferguson in the wake of the Michael Brown killing. Looking back now, I feel so naive. I believed that change was happening, that finally we would see an end to racial violence. Today, in the midst of nation-wide protests over the murder of George Floyd and countless others — I am feeling hopeful again — hopeful that change is gonna come and that the endless disregard for the lives of black and brown people will be something we talk about in history classes and not see on the news. I know that the God who holds us all — the black, the brown, the white — in the same hand is able to bring peace and reconciliation. I want to be part of that change.

I was sound asleep just a little while ago. Something woke me. I reached down to check on Chester, my Golden Retriever who sleeps on a doggy bed on the floor within arm’s reach. His bed was empty.  

I don’t know why I reached under my bed, but that is where I found him. In his six and a half years of life, I have only found Chester under the bed one other time…shortly after our son left for the Army. He could sense our distress then; was he sensing distress now?  

I checked my phone. Maybe one of my kids texted in the middle of the night with some sort of emergency…I mean, the dog was under the bed…something was not right in the world.  

My news feed told me that once again teargas was used in Ferguson, Missouri. In fact, a ninety-year-old Holocaust survivor was arrested for protesting.

What is happening?

From 2005 to June of this year (2014) I taught in a small Christian high school on the north side of St. Louis — two miles from the QT that was burned down in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown. At the time, the school had approximately sixty percent African American students and thirty-five percent white students; the remaining five percent were Asian, Hispanic, or otherwise classified.

The North side of St. Louis has a reputation for being violent and racially divided. Some people are afraid to go there. Some people wondered why I taught there. 

But in that space — at that intersection of white and black, urban and suburban, conservative and liberal — we had an opportunity.

My students and I were able to discuss issues in my classroom with humor and candor that might not be discussed outside those walls. The school fosters an open dialogue that values Christian unity amid diversity. My students taught me so much about dispelling stereotypes and respecting difference. They changed me forever.

I am not teaching there this year — the year of a violent police shooting — the year that many of my students go home at night to a broken and hurting Ferguson, the year that some of my grads are demonstrating every night, the year that neighboring public schools have closed in response to the violence. I am not there. 

Instead, I have started a new chapter in Ann Arbor, MI — which has a reputation for being inclusive, liberal, conscientious. This morning I went to the post office and was jokingly reprimanded by the African American postal worker who didn’t like me calling him ‘sir’. I smilingly explained to him that I had just moved back to Michigan from a place where using ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ is respectful and expected. He smiled knowingly and we wished each other a great day. Then, I exchanged pleasant conversation with the African American cashier at the grocery store who didn’t need to check my ID when I purchased some wine because it was her ‘job to know’ who to card. My nails were done in a salon staffed exclusively by Asian American women who joked with me and my daughter and exchanged smiles with us. I came home to a campus that houses a small but diverse population that, at least on the surface, seems to be respectful and equitable. I didn’t have a hint of racial tension in my day.  

Before I went to bed I checked the news and saw peaceful protests in Ferguson, an upbeat interview with the new chief of police there, a statement from President Obama encouraging open dialogue and peaceful resolution. I wanted to believe we were moving in the right direction — that all would soon be right with the world. I went to sleep with Chester on his doggy bed by my side.  

But several hours later, I am aware that all is not right in the world tonight — Chester is hiding under my bed. The dog who follows me everywhere, did not budge when I came to the living room at two in the morning to write. He, like many tonight, is distressed. 

I, too, am distressed. This — racism, violence against people of color, inequitable policing, systemic disparity — has gone on too long. People I know and love are hurting, protesting, putting themselves in harm’s way for the sake of change.

Like Job, I “weep for those in trouble.” As I “hope for good, evil comes,” As I “look for light, then comes darkness” (Job 30:25-27). 

But even in trouble, even in darkness, God is still God. He is in Ferguson; He is in Ann Arbor. And “He who watches over us will not slumber” (Psalm 121:3). Right now He is keeping watch. I pray that Ferguson, and those that I love there, will one day feel free to sleep in peace.

Resources for learning about/building racial equity:

Teaching Tolerance – free resources for educators “to supplement the curriculum, to inform their practices, and to create civil and inclusive school communities where children are respected, valued and welcome participants.”

Anti-racism Reading List – from Ibram X. Kendi’s

Also, there are many places that could use your donations right now, but I’ll suggest two schools that I am aware of that foster racial dialogues and provide strong educational opportunities of students of color:

Lutheran North, St. Louis, MO – the school mentioned in this post

Elan Academy, New Orleans, LA – an elementary school started by one of my former students, who is also a graduate of Vanderbilt University