trumpet

trumpet

 

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In the college/farming community where I grew up, my father was the hospital pharmacist. He had also been quite an athlete in his day (understatement) and as a hobby, he officiated football. He began refereeing high school football games in pint-sized towns and worked his way up to the college ranks and even became the president of the national association of sports officials. He aimed to encourage more women and people of color to pursue officiating in all sports and levels. My brother and I were raised by parents who exhibited excellence no matter where they put their minds and hands. 

When I was ten, my father and another referee were assigned to a game in a nearby town. He invited my friend, Marilyn, and me to tagalong for a Friday night outing. We were girls who played kick the can with our neighbors or hide and seek in wheatfields. Even going to a town a fraction of the size of our own was an adventure to us. 

We giggled in the back seat with anticipation of going to a football game under the lights. When we arrived, Marilyn asked me if the Greyhounds (our town’s high school mascot) or the Cougars (the college’s mascot) were playing. I mumbled that I wasn’t sure. The answer was none of the above.  We were young, innocent, and a bit clueless. My dad gave me money to buy concessions at half-time and told us to have fun, and he would see us after the game. Please note this was during the ’70s, in small-town America, a distant land where I grew up never considering locking a door, so this wasn’t an unusual scenario. 

As we had arrived much earlier than the game’s start time, Marilyn and I ran around until we heard cheers erupt as football teams took the field. We discovered there were not any bleachers, and fans were standing along the sidelines to spectate, which we were unaccustomed, but took in stride and entertained ourselves. 

At half-time, we were ready to spend our money and ran up a hill to enter the promised land of candy. We reached the top of the ascent and nearly crashed into a group of high school girls. In unison, we raised our chins to lay eyes on those we believed to be mythical creatures, the ones who could drive, wear make-up, and go on dates. As stars shone in our eyes, the closest girl looked from my blonde-haired friend then in my direction, uttered an expletive followed by a slur. Her words were few but the volume beckoned more eyes to land on me.

I won’t type the expletive nor the slur. This type of language is not worthy of repeating or space on my blog. All slurs are wrong however, in this particular case, the one lobbed at me did not “belong” to my ethnic group. 

We stood motionless, stunned for a moment, and as perhaps only grade school kids can pull off, looked at each other and roared with laughter then turned to run back down the hill.  

Despite the super-charged moment, we didn’t talk about it then, although we have as adults. We can only surmise that we knew what had occurred was hurtful and didn’t make sense but equally ridiculous for someone to hurl a doubly wrong insult. Racism is rooted in faulty, hasty assessments and misplaced fear. It can be obvious or subtle. 

It’s unwise to speak in absolutes. Although, I suspect few people of color haven’t experienced some form of racism. Most of my experiences would be characterized as benign compared to others and those missing from history books or acts of violence viewed on witnesses’ cell phones. Yet this story is over 45 years and despite not recalling every detail, two friends remember, it’s stitched into our histories.

If you were to enter this story, what part would you play?

Are you surrounded by those whose skin tone rarely resembles your own, hoping to be seen as equal and valued? Do you possess a hushed fear that ordinary activities could in an instant turn ugly?

Are you a leader with words laced with stereotypes designed to perpetuate negative perceptions and division? Do you bring up ethnicity when it isn’t necessary to mention?

Are you flanking the leader vacillating between awkwardness and agreement, but by remaining on the same ground, the choice is made? 

Do you identify with the crowd, minding your own business, believing the unfolding scenario doesn’t involve you and therefore, not your concern?

Are you now or have always been, the friend standing shoulder to shoulder, turning away from racism as an act of defiance and solidarity? Are you the one who walks beside friends as allies, helping to deflate the power of the maddening crowd?

Who are you? 

Who do you long to be? 

Guess what? It’s possible to have inhabited many of these characters. Have you ever uttered a word used routinely by others only to discover it was not appropriate or kind?

Allow me to raise my hand.

Several years ago, my husband and I were watching a television program. A woman spoke about her background and expressed how a certain word made her feel. Carl and I gasped with disbelief. This was a word, often used as a verb, we particularly remember hearing during our childhoods. If we had known its spelling, we might have questioned its origins, we hope. We realized how easily our language can be infiltrated with harm when we adopt words without thought. Now if we hear this word we will have the opportunity to gently educate from a place of our own learning.

No matter where you stand today, there is an opportunity to turn around and lock arms with others as allies.

*****

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, LORD, my Rock, and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:14 


*While writing drafts of this post, I titled it after the name of the town where my story took place. I had no intention of using the name when posted.  It was incredibly interesting to learn the meaning of this word is trumpet, to produce a sudden and brief burst of force. The words we speak may be momentary but carry a tremendous amount of force and the effects may remain longer than when first reached the air and ears.

May our words bless and not curse.

 

wilderness

wilderness

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I love the month of June in the Pacific Northwest. It crests the horizon of summer with all the lushness and beauty of spring still in force. The vegetation encircles me, thick with growth, filling every gap in the soil, extending an invitation to linger and behold its glory.

Our maple tree blots out the sky, creating a natural umbrella over our sidewalk and pathway winding toward the front steps. The butterfly bush gently curves towards the brick archway over our porch.

Oh, and my blueberry bushes are loaded with berries from shades of the palest green to light lavender. As branches bend earthward every indigo hued orb beckons me to pluck and eat. 

Carl and I have a pretend tug-of-war between his wish to shore up drooping stems and clip away wandering branches whereas  I want every inch of growth, a billowing canopy of foliage. Our home feels sheltered by the natural world around it.

I love it. 

I welcome it. 

Maybe I feel passionate about the glory of June because I know July and August are around the corner. Rain showers will be less plentiful leading to crunchy, scorched lawns. My shoulders start to ache simply thinking about hauling a hose around to douse weary blooms.

There’s another plot of land I witnessed this week, different than my yard at home.  It’s a  corner lot that has remained empty after the leveling of a business. This dusty, dry barren land is enclosed by a chain-link fence. I’ve grown accustomed to this familiar sight, it’s become a fixture I often don’t notice. During a rare car ride this past week, while at a stoplight, I glanced across the intersection expecting the usual view but instead the fence was lined with colorful signs declaring Black Lives Matter, Justice for George, No Justice, No Peace, and other slogans. There were flowers and balloons woven and tied through the fence gaps. I sucked in my breath as my eyes hadn’t expected to land on this makeshift monument. 

As I brace myself for the conditions and requirements of my summer garden in the weeks to come, I feel the twinge of concern about this cultural moment, will it be a sustained movement.

We long for racial injustices to be ripped from its soil like the weed it is and be replaced by the lushness of equality and compassion.

 But in reality, we are still standing on ground which hasn’t been allowed to flourish circled by the beginning seeds of hope. I feel this hope beginning to take root in my soul but I remain cautious.

Don’t we all want our world to resemble the first garden described? A place which provides shade from harsh conditions and beauty to the eye, yielding an abundance of nourishment for all.

 So many people have newly immersed themselves in black history and terminology over the last few weeks. It’s natural to desire branches heavy laden with fruit, anticipating change, and a new harvest.  But it would be a mistake to believe a long-lasting harvest is possible after simply tilling the soil and scattering seeds. Slow, sustained work in every season is essential, especially during the harshest climates.

It might be discouraging to realize our world may resemble the second plot more than the first.

But I would suggest we are a people who are in the midst of the wilderness, one which may be defined differently than imagined.

wilderness: 

a part of a garden devoted to wild growth

an area where nature is left to find its own path

We are a people with a plethora of different opinions and viewpoints. I believe the wilderness expresses what this particular time in history represents. 

There are many people who have had their eyes opened during life slowing down during the pandemic and further by seeing the shocking reality of racial injustices. Four hundred years of history is being illuminated in such a way it can no longer be denied. This revelation for some is creating huge growth opportunities. For others, it is poking at them in a way that feels too uncomfortable to acknowledge or to slow down long enough to personally reflect. 

Envision America as circled by the fence of those who want to secure the current laws of the land and definitely do not wish to see or embrace the wild abandoned growth of others.  The ones who are stretching and processing are trying to tether their message onto the fence dwellers. They are crying, “work with us, be united with us.”

What remains to be seen is who will gain possession of all the remaining land still up for grabs.

Who will remain to keep fighting for justice and equality?

Who will keep speaking up even when words are rejected by friends, neighbors, co-workers, or family members?

Who desires to fully inhabit this time in history and not simply pass by?

I am hopeful. I also may have to admit Carl’s desire to shore up the drooping and trim away the excess might not be such a bad idea. 

Support one another in this fight. 

Continue to cut away old ideas and stereotypes and biases.

Allow time to digest new truths you encounter and learn.

Keep listening and asking yourself what is something only you can do to fight racism.

Everyone has a part and will look different from person to person. This is a good thing.

How I endeavor to fight racism will look different than someone else’s. A collective movement has many different facets, which enhances its beauty and value.

*****

May we be people of hope.

May we never tire of doing the good work of peace.

May we walk alongside one another in solidarity.

May we continue to offer a hand to those who simply want to stay on their own path.

May we walk in humility.

May growth create change for others rather than puff ourselves up.

May we long for the day when all the land is flourishing and yielding a mighty harvest.

May there always be enough blueberries for everyone. Forever. Amen.

 

 

a weary world, not rejoicing

a weary world, not rejoicing

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Early in the pandemic, there were piles of memes to wade through on any given day, but there was one which I found to be particularly funny:

Introverts, please check on your extrovert friends during this time of need. They are not OK.

For many introverts, this meme was not only hilarious but pointed out how often introverts are the ones who are expected to adapt in an extroverted world. In a sense, extroverts found a way to make aspects of quarantine all about themselves, their needs, their comfort, or discomfort. 

 But it’s just a meme, right?

This past week with all the news coverage regarding George Floyd and the woman calling the police on a black man in Central Park, I was flooded with grief. 

On Wednesday, I could not get myself together. 

I sat dazed in a chair and read a fantasy novel most of the day, now and then glancing at social media littered with hashtags and photos AND videos. I hadn’t anticipated feeling quite so assaulted by the images. I mean, it’s sad to admit but apart of me has become accustomed to this horrific violence. I could spend the rest of this post listing the names of those we know who have been killed because of skin color and leave a lengthy space for the names we don’t know, only their families and loved ones know. Each image, every name, a source of trauma attaching itself to my soul, my DNA. 

I haven’t been one who easily picks up a sign or marches for a cause. Maybe I have spent too many years of being polite. I considered myself to be one person in a group possessing a specific amount of assigned power hoping that collectively we might amass some power, some influence, maybe even credibility in this world.

I believed if I dressed a certain way, styled my hair in a palatable way, never put my hands in my pockets while in a store, and chose to let kindness be my guiding principle, then maybe I, this one person, might add a chain link to the legacy of my great grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles.  Extending to my brother, sister, cousins, husband, children, niece, and nephew to shift people’s opinions and obliterate fears about people who look like us.

So when I scroll through Instagram stories and see a quick photo with a hashtag followed by photo after photo of trivial things to me, it is perplexing. Instagram stories last 24 hours but a physical post can last indefinitely. It feels like announcing you are going swimming but only your big toe gets wet.  Maybe it feels tolerable to display murder on one frame and a sweaty workout selfie on the next frame. It feels like drive-by social justice, fleeting. It’s like jumping on a bandwagon and deciding when the ride ends. The wheels are still moving for me, for many.

Back to the meme at the beginning of this post, allow me to change it up:

White friends, please check on your black friends during this time of need. They are not okay. 

I lost pieces of hope this week. I wish the wearing down of my soul made it smoother but I am unsure.  I have never felt more fear for my male family members and especially for my son beginning to tiptoe into adulthood. 

I have lived as if racism was my problem to fix. When in reality, it is mine to be healed from and for those who don’t look like me to lend their voices, time, and power to end its deadly message. Racism is not a hashtag. Protests, education, and reading books are valid ways to stand against this evil monster of racial injustice but true healing can only start in my opinion when empathy leads the way.

Empathy is not about feeling bad about something and remaining silent, returning to life as normal because the alternative feels uncomfortable. It is a privilege to be able to return to life as usual without the fears so many people of color bear. It is important to be aware of the privilege of not having to change any part of daily life when it is not the reality for Black people and other people of color.

 Can you jog or take a walk without a second thought?

Can you enjoy bird watching without fear of being arrested? 

Are you able to drive a nice car without concern you will be questioned about your ownership?

These are rights and shouldn’t be just for some.

My daughters and I have talked over the years about how we unconsciously exaggerate our actions in stores. We want to make it absolutely clear when we touch something that we have replaced it, if we decided against buying it. This is an intrinsic message based on a  potential (not imagined) threat during a routine activity of life. This is why I keep my hands out of my pockets, in case you wondered. 

Empathy is feeling the pain and refusing to turn away. It is acknowledging your own feelings and turning your eyes from those onto another’s pain. It is a willingness to proclaim your presence beside someone else because their pain is different than your own and experience. Empathy shouts despite the discomfort, it might involve saying the wrong words but affirming a desire to walk together. It’s weeping with those who weep and to mourn with those who mourn. It’s asking “how are you?” and then leaning in, listening without discounting experience, or projecting a defensive stance.

Sometimes it’s as simple as saying I am here for you because I see you.

*****

I wrote this post on Friday and then over the weekend, I had several friends text to check in with me. I was very moved by these offerings. It caused me to debate whether to post this piece but then I remembered one of my aims is to remind people they are not alone. I believe there is at least one other black person who is wondering why there is so much noise online but silence towards them.  Maybe they are wondering if they are really seen by those who don’t share their skin tone. They also may fear by a pointed post like this, they will now be avalanched by concern, so many days and years late. 

So please be gentle with your black friends and family members. 

Be authentic.

Apologize. 

Check-in by making it about them. Use the correct pronouns. not just how badly you feel. 

Listen and then listen some more.

*****

 

May we walk in love with each other.

May we grieve with each other.

May we share space for uncomfortable words.

May we have the courage to look at one another in the eyes and listen to each other’s histories.

May we have the strength to apologize where we have wounded and may we be people who extend grace to those who simply had no idea. 

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  

II Corinthian 1: 3-4