This has been the summer I fully embraced the community of my church family. The one where I attend services and the one that has connected me with some life-long friends and acquaintances. It has been a summer of gathering together socially and spiritually. Mostly, it has been the best time I have had in years and I am beyond grateful.
Change is hard. Change brings unfamiliarity. Change can be external to us while processed internally. Change can bring up feelings we never knew we had. Change can send us into a dark place or it can open the door to new opportunities. Change can make us angry or it can bring a sense of relief. Yes, change can be hard.
Please forgive me if my language is clumsy or inadequate. I am a work in progress and happily take your suggestions on how to improve.
I grew up in a military environment that was pretty well integrated. My best friends as a kid were African American and Jewish. I learned the best parts of their heritage and was shielded from the bias against them. As a teen, two of my best friends were of Asian descent. I never saw any hate directed toward them, or if there was any, they didn’t tell me. I dated people from many backgrounds and races, yet my parents made it clear that these were unacceptable long-term relationships. I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith and because my dad’s best friends were Jewish, we learned to respect their faith. In spite of all that, there were still derogatory terms used by adults around me: the N-word, the f-g word, the S-word (you get the gist) that was perfectly acceptable to them. There was an undertone that as alike as we were, we were still superior in some way because we were white and Catholic/Christian.
These are concepts that are hard for me to reconcile today. How could I grow up with such welcomed diversity and acceptance and yet still a sense that I was “better than” because of my skin color or faith? How could I have been so blind to the prejudice and hate my friends likely experienced on a regular basis? I have had to search my heart and soul to ask when I have, even in some small way, passed on that negative heritage to my daughter. How have I taken the subtle superiority of my parent’s generation and filtered relationships- personal and professional- through that negative lens?
As someone who believes we are ALL created in the image of God, we are all loved by him and we all have value and worth in his eyes; how do I reconcile those derogatory tapes in my past against the backdrop that my own family today includes Asians, African-Americans, LGBTQ+ people whom I dearly love? How do I do a better job of loving and caring for people who are not like me?
I start with asking forgiveness for my naivety and ignorance. I ask the Lord to break the chains to any past behaviors and thought patterns. I start the conversation with friends and family and seek to learn more about walking in their shoes. And I walk more closely with them.
I have to be responsible for taking off my blinders and my disbelief that prejudice and hate exist. I need be more deliberate in standing for my friends and family- asking them how best to do that. It isn’t about what I think they need and want- it is about asking them what I can do and standing with them. That’s how we break our own bias and preconceived notions. I will seek to be more informed and more engaged and more respectful of others.
Lord, forgive me when I have closed my eyes to the inequality toward your people. Forgive me for my own pride and superior attitude. Lord, open my eyes and ears and use me as an instrument of your change. Father, guide our nation to be welcoming and change our hearts to see each other as valuable, regardless of color, culture, religion, or life-style. Start with me father.
Photo: Getty images
I am one of those people who isn’t afraid to ask the tough question. I love to get people thinking about opposing viewpoints or scenarios. When these are thoughtful civil discussions, we can begin to see that the alternative perspective has merit. We can begin to incorporate those perspectives into our own and realize a change in ourselves.
I am a parent, who like you has dreams that my child will find love and happiness in life. I may also be a parent like you whose child or grandchild is part of the LGBTQ community. My love for her and my joy for her hasn’t changed. I have taken this to the Lord for many days and nights and I am trusting that He is with her, as he has been all her life.
It’s time for some of us to stop talking and start listening and hearing. Whites have had the floor for a long time now. We have had the upper hand and have misused our privilege. Intentionally or unintentionally, people have been suppressed, held down, beaten, taken advantage of, and disregarded as members of our society.
Change starts with me, with my thinking and my actions. My childhood memories include people close to me using the “N-word’ and making disparaging comments about people of color while bragging that they have black friends so that shows they aren’t prejudice. I remember fear and concern from my parents when I dated black men or my sister and brother married people from other cultures. We were crossing a line they would never have dreamed of doing.
I grew up with the civil rights movement. It was difficult for our elders. They learned to adjust to a new way of living. It was, however, always veiled in a element of fear. A fear they passed on to the next generation as we pushed for equality. We opened our neighborhoods to people who didn’t look like us and we became friends with people our parents might never have had an opportunity to meet in an equal setting. It was a small beginning that seemed radical and unsettling for them.
I like to think that my generation raised a new generation with less prejudice and that we have done a better job at inclusion and equality. The truth that we haven’t done enough is evident in recent events that have led to wide-spread protests. As a child I watched the demonstrations for civil rights. I watched the demonstrations to end the war. They were violent at times. Those voices were heard. Steps were taken in the right direction because of those brave souls. Today’s generation has picked up the ball we dropped and are again pushing it up the hill of change. It is time we helped them with this fight.
This past year I was exposed to some studies and engaged in some conversations about inequality from those who live it. I have begun to understand the concept of white privilege as I realize the daily fears people of color live with that I will never experience. The inequality I have experienced in the work place as a white woman is nothing compared to the challenges of an African American women. My fears when I am pulled over for a traffic violation is nothing compared to a man of color who fears for his life in the same situation. I have experienced wolf calls or sick comments from sexist men and still it doesn’t compare to what non-white people in this country hear on a nearly daily basis.
…we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything – and I do mean everything – connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life – a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. Ephesians 4:22-24
The oppressed need to be heard. The advantages need to be leveled. The reaction needs to improve. The thinking needs to change. We need to stand and hold up those who have grown weary of holding themselves up. We need to change the character of ourselves and call out others to do the same. We need to stop turning a blind eye to inequality, step down from our pedestals, and ask “how do I help?”
I admit I have more questions than I have answers. That makes me sad. I pray from my home and write as God moves me to write. I am talking more with friends and family. I can’t be silent out of fear some will disregard me because the fear that nothing will change is greater. I will keep taking the steps I can until God moves me in a new direction.
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31
I want to love more like Jesus.
How many times have you said that to yourself? How many times have you prayed to live more like Jesus, to have a heart like Jesus, and to treat others like Jesus did. Have you asked God to give you a heart that fights against injustice and a passion for change?
I fall short of that all the time and I am beginning to realize that while they are nice sentiments, I don’t know the first thing about changing in a way that is meaningful to others. I want to be that person that walks across the street to help the one others ignore rather than to cross the street to avoid people I have been trained to fear. I want to sit among the “sinners” and hear their stories and stand with the brokenhearted, the marginalized, and the mistreated.
I want to love like Jesus.
I was asked the other day to think about the things that matter to me the most, the things I am passionate about, and those things that bring me joy. I am at a crossroads and seeking how to hear God in new ways and to uncover where he is leading me next. My mind went from what I do and what brings me joy to what really gets under my skin that I have been ignoring out of a fear that I will once again be rejected for what God is putting on my heart. So here I go with phase one of my journey of discovering where God and I will be walking next.
What Gets My Goat
– or those issues I see around me in a church setting, in religious discussion, and inflicted upon people I love and care about. They break down into four key issues of imparity or inequality. Race/immigration, age, gender, and marital status. Places where I have seen, and in some cases experienced, discrimination against someone because they are from outside my culture, older or younger, male, female, part of the LGBTQ community, and unmarried persons–be that never married, widowed, or especially divorced. I have walked through all of these areas as a senior citizen, a mother and friend, and as someone married, divorced, and widowed. I have sat with people living through the pain inflicted upon them by people at work, so-called well-intentioned friends, and religious communities. Unfortunately, their stories are painful and seldom filled with the love and joy that Jesus wished for us and commanded us to offer. The “church” can do better – we can love better, we can stand stronger as allies, we can follow Jesus and enter into places that seem so unholy and care better.
I can do better.
Mother’s Day is this weekend. I was reminded by one of my favorite authors, Rosemarie Fitzsimmons of The Portrait Writer, that it may not be easy for some of us to celebrate our mothers. Some of us may no longer have our moms with us while still others don’t have wonderful memories or relationships with their mothers.
As I reflect back on my own mother, I remember some sad times as she struggled in a marriage that was not kind to her and led her to find relief in a bottle of beer or cognac. Her alcoholism would tarnish her image for us children as we remember the angry outbursts and thefights with her husband. She could be rather brutal when under the influence and it would be easy to just remember that mother.
But my mother was also a generous loving woman. She loved her church and when not tending to the family, you could find her in service to the Lord or at school volunteering. People who met her there saw the heart of Jesus and a friend that would give everything for them. I think my sister and I learned those lessons–to give without ever expecting anything in return, simply because we are led by the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately because of her alcohol abuse my mother wasn’t always available to me as a mother. She did her best. She loved us. Her outbursts were usually the result of frustration and fear that we were moving away from God’s will for us–meaning the “rules” of Catholic life. We couldn’t always talk to her about things because they might come back to haunt us later. That led me to find other strong women as mentors and mother figures.
There were Mrs. R. and Mrs. C, who understood my mother’s struggles and knew that I needed that little bit of extra attention. There was Marie who showed up throughout my life to step in during weddings and from whom I would learn how to set a table and host guests with grace. My neighbor Pat who helped me lose weight in high school and gave me confidence to find friends in an awkward time. As I moved on with my life and following my mother’s death I have come to know some remarkable women, starting with my sister Marilyn who I watched navigate the ups and downs of marriage while my brother and I went through divorce after divorce.
There was my dear friend Gail who taught me how to live as an unmarried woman in love with the Lord. God sent me wonderful women friends with whom I could share my life challenges and would remind me that I am never alone and I am worthy of love and friendship. Still other mentors from my church world guide me to forgiveness for my own actions and into redemption through healing prayer. I have met wonderful women living in ministry and with sacrifice in the service of the Lord and to other women.
Today I want to remember all of these wonderful women that God put in my world to help me navigate life and draw nearer to him. I am extremely grateful to them for taking the time to listen, to share their story, and to pray with me. I appreciate the lessons I have learned and their willingness to walk with me into a new changed life.
Maybe Mother’s Day brings up some pain in your life. Maybe you don’t have the TV perfect mother and feel that you missed out. Maybe your mother was missing as you grew up and you feel abandoned.
If that is you, I encourage you to look beyond the label of the day and look at the women in your life. Is there someone who had a special impact on your life? Is there someone who you cherish because of the woman of God she is and the blessing you receive every time you get together? Maybe she is an older woman and maybe she is a younger lady. Think about her. Honor her. Pray for her. Give thanks for her.
Don’t let this Sunday be a gloomy day for you. Don’t feel compelled to celebrate in the traditional manner. Seek out a woman who has touched you and give her a call. Thank her at church on Sunday. Take her out for lunch next week. Be blessed and then honor her in the best way possible: pass it on. Be a blessing to some woman or young girl that she too may know the joy of a giving relationship with women.
And if you are fortunate enough that the woman who influenced you most is your mom–breathe in that love, let it warm your heart, and make sure she knows the love and respect you have. If your relationship is strained with your mother, lift her up to the Lord and ask that he redeem your relationship and bring healing and restoration. In all things, give thanks for the life she gave you and the woman you are today.