Wednesday, August 30, 2017

my messy beginning: week 4


This is the final essay for the blog series I've participated in alongside three other wonderful writers. It has been my honor to explore this messy topic with Mika, Amy, and Precious. They are all such beautiful, creative, intelligent women. This final post was written by me. 

*****
I prefer when my writing culminates into a complete thought, when stories and anecdotes sit with me long enough to reach a finish line. I tend not to hit that Publish button until I've drawn a conclusion, tidied things up, and feel a sense of a closure.

Today is different.

There is no sense of closure because I'm just beginning this journey. I have so many conclusions spinning in my head I hardly know what to do next. I'm in the midst of so much learning and thinking and questioning; it is terrifying and thrilling. There are days I'd like to rewind the clock to before I wrestled with privilege and injustice. I’d like to unread and unlearn information that has left me wondering how me - this affluent, white, stay-at-home mom in the suburbs of Cincinnati - can possibly be part of reconciliation. Other days I want to shake myself because I spent so many years missing it, looking right past it.

In the spring of 2016, I began reading the book Seven. Oh, to this day, there are times I wish I could unread it. God knocked the wind out of me within the pages of that book, awakening me to the intensity and responsibility of the privilege I was born into.

Up until that day, I had thought very little of privilege and what it looked like in my life. I suppose when privilege is your norm, it is easy to miss.

But soon I saw it everywhere.

I saw privilege when I opened my fridge, stared at shelves full of food, and ordered pizza because I didn’t feel like eating anything we had.

I saw privilege when I put my contacts in each morning because I’ve had resources to correct my failing eyes for nearly 30 years.

I saw privilege when I handed in my letter of resignation, voluntarily leaving my job to stay home with my children.

I saw privilege when I was pulled over for a missing headlight and never considered a police officer might treat me unfairly. 

I saw privilege when I freely disagreed with colleagues and never thought twice that my race would be the backdrop for how others interpreted my words.

I saw privilege when our president was elected because as much as I hate how he speaks of the oppressed, I knew my day to day life would not be much different.

God put a fire in my gut the week I read that book, a restless stirring I haven’t been able to shake. I can’t stop reading and talking and asking questions. I can’t unlearn that I am in the top 1% of wealthiest people in the world, practically drowning in resources. I can’t pretend educational opportunities are the same for all children. I can’t ignore the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are desperately trying to come to America, and yet live such isolated lives once they are here. I can’t unsee the hate-filled eyes in those videos of Charlottesville.

This is my messy beginning, my shuffling along, fighting my way through the weeds, with my hands outstretched, asking God, "What now? What can you do with the hesitant offering of a woman prone to wander, resist, and cling to privilege? Can you dig it out by its ugly roots? Can you keep forgiving me? Can you make reconciliation my heart’s cry rather than an item on my to-do list?”

*****

During the past year, I have looped through a cycle of emotions regarding the abundant advantages in my life.

I am ignorant.
I am overwhelmed.
I am disgusted.
I am paralyzed.
I am afraid.
I am humbled, forgiven, and obedient.
Repeat.

Those first five stages are fruitless at best; sinful if I’m honest, and I need to deal with them as such. I need to call out the sin in my life.

I am ignorant. That is sin. Ignorance is choosing foolishness. It is looking away from truth and ignoring the mind God gave me for learning and questioning and engaging. Ignorance is choosing oblivion to global and national crises, excusing myself because it's too sad, it's too hard.

I am overwhelmed. That is sin. I am looking to my own ability to solve injustice rather than following the lead of Him who came to change the world through servanthood. I am sinking into defeat, rather than clinging to a God of victory. Nothing is impossible for Him, and to be overwhelmed is to disregard the power of the Holy Spirit who is alive and active in me. 

I am disgusted. That is sin. The Lord needed to bring me to a place of disgust, a harsh realization of my abundant privilege. But to stay in that place of guilt, apologizing for all I have, is to forget the One who gave it to me. He did not accidentally place me in this life, at this time in history, and He is not interested in my apologies for living in America, for being white, for being educated, or for succeeding in a career.

I am paralyzed. That is sin. The reality of injustice is so thick and so heavy, I get lost in it. And then I do nothing. I stay in my neighborhood and in my home, with my conveniences and luxuries. I hang out with people who look like me and think like me. We talk about how thankful we are Jesus came to do all that messy work, but disengage ourselves from real action. Pretty soon, doing nothing in my norm.

I am afraid. This is sin. Fear will lie to me every time, coaxing me to believe injustice is too much for my God. Fear tells me I will fail if I seek reconciliation. Fear tells me I will say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing. Fear tells me I will put myself in danger and be in over my head. Fear tells me I will upset people and annoy my friends. But God did not give me a spirit of fear, and to believe otherwise is sin.

I am humbled, forgiven, and obedient. Confronting my own selfishness is miserable, but once each of those daggers have been humbly laid down, I can claim Christ’s forgiveness and move on to obedience.

The Bible tells me to feel the pain of others. Be wrecked by injustice. Be burdened. The Bible tells me to pray, and not just on the days after horrific events like Charlottesville, but to get on my knees every day, crying out for the broken and forgotten, repenting from my sins and the sins of this nation. The Bible says to be faithful in prayer, be persistent, keep bugging God to shake my soul and not look away from oppressive systems that have handed me a life of advantage.

This doesn’t have to be an either/or approach. I can carry on with my daily life and remember the marginalized around me. I can write on my blog about eating dessert in the bathroom, and I can write about racial reconciliation. I can take my children to our community pool where they see dozens of children who look just like them, and I can take them to a church where they are the racial minority. My husband and I can celebrate special occasions at overpriced restaurants, and we can volunteer with the Cincinnati Refugee Resettle Program. I can go to the gym to teach Zumba classes, and I can learn to correctly pronounce the names of the minority women in my class, not just the white students. I can talk with my girlfriends about curtains and crockpot dinners and playdates, and we can talk about teaching our children to stand up for others. I can read Real Simple magazine, and I can read about how to love my friends of color well. I can pray with my children for God to heal their owies, and I can pray with my children for God to awaken their eyes and hearts to those who need love.

This isn’t a checklist. It isn’t more to add to my plate. It isn’t one or the other. It is awareness. It is courage. It is a transformation of my heart to move past the years I spent desiring peace and wishing well to those on the sidelines.

Jesus spent His life on the bottom rung of the ladder. He surrounded himself with the powerless, the outcasts, the bottom dwellers, the marginalized. By his own choosing, He never made it up past that bottom rung. But I was born on the top rung; I was born into a life so far from Jesus. White. American. Middle class. Educated. Excess everything. It is a life so many long for, but it is a life that has proven to be my greatest hindrance in knowing the true Jesus. It is so far from the Savior who said He was “close to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18) and that “the highborn are but a lie” (Psalm 62:9). There is such a distance from me and the man who constantly cared for the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the needy. It is so much harder to “seek justice and encouraged the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17) from up on this top rung.

It’s ironic how you can read something a dozen times and always hope someone else is taking it
to heart. How did I miss it?

In every corner of the Bible, God is screaming, begging, pleading, urging me to love mercy and justice, to care for the last and least. If I’m going to believe the Bible is the Word of God, then it seems God is obsessed with social justice, and He asking me to stay engaged and join Him.

This is my messy beginning.

*****

A note from Mika, Amy, Precious, and Joy:

It has been a joy to share our hearts with you over the past month. The four of us have each been challenged, convicted, and inspired. We have each prayed earnestly for our readers, and for ourselves asking God to shake some souls and spur on conversations that would bring Him glory. We would love to end this series by praying for our nation, together pleading with God to heal and restore.

Oh Jesus,

We come before You with our mess. We acknowledge our sin and repent from it. We need You to do your thing. We need your power to bring change because we know we are powerless without You. I pray, God, that You would heal our nation and bring us to racial reconciliation. I pray that our hearts and minds would be changed and that change would lead to action. May our hearts break for the damage white supremacy has caused in our nation - that we would see it for the sin it is, and commit to not being complicit in it. I pray we would move outside our comfort zones, invite people into our homes that don’t look like us, and build relationships in an effort to reconcile.

I pray America would become comfortable with being uncomfortable and no longer shy away from our horrid past. I pray we would know that racial reconciliation is not simply a good option; it’s important to You. May our hearts remain pliable for You to mold and change; performing open heart surgery if necessary to make us into a people that not only embodies the ethos of reconciliation, but the life style. May our days be less comfortable and more courageous. May our love for You, Jesus, cause us to actively love our neighbors well.

I pray we would lay down our privilege to serve and to see. I pray we would open our hands and our eyes. We are in need of Your grace and Your grit to do and hear hard things. Lead us, Jesus. Please do exceedingly above what we ask.

Amen.


Chains fall
Fear bow
Here, now
Jesus, you change everything
Lives healed
Hope found
Here, now
Jesus, you change everything

Lyrics from Holy Ground

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

miseducation of privilege: week 3

The next post in our series comes from my friend, Precious Jones. There is so much honesty and so much wisdom in this essay. She challenged me to consider my passivity of privilege and moving toward of lifestyle of reconciliation rather that a quick fix. I continue to pray for each reader of this series. May God engage you heart and mind in a new way.



As a Black Christian woman I have more anxiety on the Sunday or Monday following tragic events such as the #Charlottesville attack because the work of racial reconciliation is exhausting.  The Sunday following Charlottesville (which happened to be less than 24 hours later), I remember being hopeful as I entered church that I would regain some of my sanity.  At least a little bit.  Thinking to myself,  this Sunday at least one non-person of color would come up to me and legitimize the concern I privately expressed to many.  I recounted the personal conversations held following the election of our President regarding his rhetoric and lack of empathy for non-whites.  At the time, I shared that I thought his views would give credence to those who held extremist and racist views to become hyper-visible and less concerned with "hiding" their views or their faces.  We witnessed that in #Charlottesville.

This was not a moment of wanting to be right.  This was a moment of wanting to be validated.  I wanted to feel sane, if only for a moment.  The context here is that I have spent countless hours listening, sharing, and praying with congregants and colleagues as we earnestly look to live reconciled.   Yet, I exited my phenotypically diverse church that day without a single conversation or acknowledgement from a white person.  I exited with increased ache in my heart.  I exited wondering how many more Sundays will I sit in this pew and wrestle with the passivity of privilege and the tone policing of my voice. I then hoped for a face to face conversation, text, phone call on Tuesday, Wednesday, or any day.  It did not occur.  Exhaustion enters stage right.

After reflecting on Amy's blog, How Do I Handle My Privilege, and her compelling question at the end which asked, "What privilege do you have, and how can you use it to serve the underprivileged?"  I stumbled upon a revelation.  

In the United States of America, privilege has been a silent teacher for hundreds of years.  Privilege, white privilege, for those who possess it, has taught that good things will come to them simply because of who they are - even if that good thing is racial reconciliation.  

Many would argue that hatred is a learned behavior.  I'd contend that just as hatred is taught, so is the passivity of privilege.  It is mostly taught without using words.  Privilege by its very nature is passive.  It demands absolutely nothing of its possessor. It teaches its possessor to protect it at all cost.  Privilege indirectly teaches that if one desires racial reconciliation, then it will be achieved by simply waiting for the "perfect, comfortable, opportunity" to have a difficult conversation, ask an awkward question, or get to know a person outside of your ethnicity.  Privilege has written thousands of history books and passed hundreds of laws. And with events like #Charlottesville, it waits patiently to reconcile.  We've been miseducated, and the western church has been an active pupil. 

Miseducation definition: a wrong or deficient education

Racial reconciliation is costly.  It takes work.  

Many desire racial reconciliation through a five-step process or a "quick read." I've had countless people ask me to give them a resource to navigate this difficult and messy space. For instance, there’s a local church in our city that offers a fantastic six week workshop on race which creates a safe space for people in the community to listen to one another, grow in empathy, and dialogue.  However, I’ve encountered many who’ve been content with attending this six week session and reference this as their “work” in racial reconciliation. I commend people for attending; however, when this session ends, the work of racial reconciliation doesn’t. If the only desire is a resource, racial reconciliation may not be realized.  It happens over time through empathy, honesty, contrition, and proximity.  Get close. Get uncomfortable. Get honest. 

If the American church desires to really model racial reconciliation, the Church must re-educate itself. Learn from Black folks.  Listen to Black folks.  Lament with Black folks.  Let Black folks lead.

I don't want a racial reconciliation that demands more of one follower of Christ than the other.  I pray that my encounter on the Sundays following tragic events are less anxious and more intentional.  As Amy stated in the previous blog, may we be known by what we lay down, rather than by any privilege we hold high.  

As a follower of Christ, I remain hopeful that racial reconciliation will occur in earnest as I continue to engage in uncomfortable conversations, love others where they are, and speak truth to power. I'm encouraged that others are doing the same.  I have not thrown in the towel on racial reconciliation. Each day I hold tightly to the hope I have in Christ, anchored by the reality of my desperate need for Jesus as I do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.
 
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. - John 15:13 
Maybe the first act of laying down one's life is to lay down the passivity of privilege.

As we lay down our respective privilege, I pray that we build authentic relationships across multiple ethnic groups, help restore broken communities, and recognize systems that perpetuate marginalization for disadvantaged groups. May we use our power, resources, and influence to tear these oppressive systems down; decision by decision.  Racial Reconciliation, like sanctification (process of becoming more like Christ), is worked out daily.  It is not a one time act.  It is a lifestyle. 

The church has been "waiting" for racial reconciliation for too long.  Let's intentionally give differently, life differently, and love differently.  Not just in words, but in lifestyle.

May privilege be ousted as primary instructor in the work of racial reconciliation and be replaced by empathy that leads to action.

"He has told you, O man, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?"
   Micah 6:8 ESV

*****

Precious Jones is the proud daughter of parents who've known struggle. The familial impact of poverty and struggle shape her writing. She works in youth & education advocacy for those marginalized. She's a former Electrical engineer who delights in creating through writing. She is a proud southerner turned foodie who loves people more than she loves good food and a good read. She resides in Cincinnati, OH and candidly shares her predilections [bias, leaning, weakness, & predisposition] on her blog, Precious Predilections.

Friday, August 18, 2017

how do I handle my white privilege: week 2

The second post in our collaborative blog series comes from Amy Seiffert. In this essay, Amy talks honestly about how God has called her to use her white privilege to serve. Amy and I are joining two other women in this blog series, and it is our collective prayer that these essays will spark both conversation and courage to follow Christ's example of love.


"Life's most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for other?" -Martin Luther King, Jr.

My name is Amy, and I have white privilege. I was born into a white, middle class, educated family. I got a college degree and married a white male who also has his degree and is now a small business owner. We have three kids and reside in a predominately white neighborhood in a college town.

I deeply miss the diverse relationships I had in high school; we had various cultures, religions, and races in my friend circle. Korean, Black, Indian, Arabic, Mexican, White, Jewish, Hindu, Christian. I miss recognizing and celebrating diverse friendships, having the weeds of prejudice pulled from my white privilege perspective, and raising my children with a colorful and beautiful view of the world. 

I miss the daily academic environment where the table is set to have hard conversations. We had many respectful and robust discussions about our distinct heritages. We not only talked, we were in each others' home. I loved the food, the practices, the clothing, and the family life of my friends who were very different from me. My family now continues to cultivate relationships with other races that are around us, but we would love to - we need to -  cultivate more. The richness of other races in our lives grows such beauty, humility, understanding, joy, and hope. Our soul-soil is in great deficit when we close it off to any kind of vital diversity.

Privilege, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is: "a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people." Privilege can feel as obvious as our skin color and as subtle as our literacy. Even right now, if you are reading this blog, your literacy gives you advantage. I absolutely amen "education is a right, not a privilege" - but we can agree, for those who can read, these is an absolute upper hand.

And today, as I come together with four different kinds of women, writing four diverse kinds of blog posts about privilege, race, ethnicity, reconciliation, fear, hopes, and dreams - we also have one common denominator:

Jesus.

I sit humbled and thankful that King Jesus is King of a colorful Kingdom. His rule and reign is one where every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord when it's all said and done. "Every" being the game-changer. We will not be segmented under His rule, we will come under one allegiance, and we will all bow down on the same, level ground next to the cross.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothes in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God. -Revelation 7:9-11

King Jesus had stunning leadership regarding privilege. He was enthroned in glory, fully God, crowned in all comfort. And He laid it all down. He put down His rights, His throne, His everything. Nothing was taken with Him when He took up human skin and moved into the neighborhood. Paul explains this beautifully.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death - and the worst kind of death at that - a crucifixion. -Philippians 2:5-8 MSG

It is temping to forget that this is GOD who lived this way. Setting the pace for the good life, He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave. He took up a towel, got down on His knees, and washed grimy feet. He served his heart out, to the point of death. 

And so when it circles back to us, to me, I have a big question to answer: What do I specifically do with my white privilege? I often freeze just thinking about my advantages, I feel guilty about them, or I hide them because I don't know how to handle them well. I want to weed out the prejudices in the garden of my heart and sow seeds of racial reconciliation; I feel sad and embarrassed when I find incongruities in my soul. Who can help us in handling our white privilege?

Praise be to God! If we take our cues from the King, we will find the answer. We don't have to struggle or hide or be perfect with our privilege. Like Jesus, we simply lay them down to serve.

After some soul-searching, just one of the ways my entire family can lay down our white privilege and serve the underprivileged is begin a Licensed Foster Care Family. Before you object in your heart and think "that's for saints" - please reconsider. Those who foster are not saints, they simple have a safe home. The requirement to foster is very basic: a safe environment.

At different times this past year, we have laid down our routines, our comforts, our possessions, and had children in our home for short periods of time (we have done short-term Respite Care), giving a sweet child (we've housed Hispanic, black, and white children) a safe place to be in the middle of insanity. In the middle of abuse. In the middle of drugs. 

Do we lay aside our white privilege perfectly? Absolutely not. Do we try to by faith? Yes. Even if it's the size of a peppercorn. This is the way King Jesus lived, always by faith. He came down by faith, He laid aside everything by faith, He died by faith  - faith in the resurrection to come.

I often have the famous phrase "With great privilege comes great responsibility," running through my mind. And I can freeze. But, friends, if you also freeze - let's unthaw together and simply serve. Let's serve in as many ways as we can. Serve in little ways and great ways. Serve with our voices when we see injustice and serve with our actions when we see helplessness. Serve using our strength for the weak and leveraging our power for the vulnerable.

What privilege do you have, and how can you use it to serve the underprivileged?

May we be known by what we lay down, rather than by any privilege we hold high. 

*****

Amy Seiffert is a wife of 17 years and mom of 3, who never thought she would love raising her family in a small college town. She words at Brookside Church as the Director of Outward Movement and has the privilege of occasionally preaching. Amy loves tennis, ice cream, and making beautiful things. In between diaper changes, laundry, and soccer practice, she writes, blogs, speaks, and is working on her book on motherhood. She has been in a monthly book club for 17 years and cannot believe Oprah has not brought them on her show. Amy inspires, teachers, and humble relates to the mystery and messiness of life. She tells all at www.amyseiffert.com


Saturday, August 12, 2017

perspectives on privilege & racial reconciliation: week 1

A few months ago, my dear friend Mika came to me with an idea. I love when Mika has ideas.

She invited me to be part of a blog collaboration on the topic of racial reconciliation and privilege. The Lord has used a number of circumstances over the past year to awaken my eyes and heart to the marginalized in our world. Rather than apologizing for the life of privilege God has given me, I am now seeing ways He asks me to use my privilege to speak up rather than look away. I refuse to believe Satan's lie that this problem is too big, too heavy, and is better to just ignore. Writing is one way I speak up.

It is my great honor to welcome Mika as a guest writer to 44 & Oxford. She is getting us started by sharing her heart for this collaboration. Over the next month, you will hear from myself and two other beautiful women on the topics of privilege and racial reconciliation.



By Guest Writer, Shamika Karikari

Heather and Holly were the first friends I made in school. It was back in 1990 when I was 5 years old and in kindergarten. They were also twins which made our friendship extra special for my twin sister and me. And they were white. I could not have anticipated that our afternoon kindergarten class at Becker Elementary would be the beginning of my ability to build genuine friendships across race. 

From a young age I noticed segregated spaces around me. I vividly remember my twin sister and I often being the only Black faces in a sea of white spaces. We had a way of making white people feel comfortable. Some of this rubbed off from our parents who were always open to white people, even when the gesture was not returned. We dated white boys, had white friends over for dinner and sleepover, and my parents were unfazed. Looking back, I see how my upbringing forced me to navigate white spaces with ease and confidence, but also at a cost. The cost of giving up some of me in order to be more palatable to white people was high. I didn't have the language to articulate this then, but now I understand that tension more deeply.

As an adult, I see the racial divide continues. Although I haven't been called a nigger, I have experienced other racial slurs and microaggressions. In recent years I have witnessed countless Black women and men killed by police officers for being Black. People like Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Sam DuBose, Mike Brown, and the list goes on and on. Our Black skin continues to be reason enough to be feared. 

I've organized spaces to grieve these unjust deaths. 

I've participated in discussions to process these unjust deaths. 

I've protested these unjust deaths. 

And yet, I still have a desire to do more. I've felt God lay on my heart the role I should play in regards to racial reconciliation in the Christian community. 

I go to a church whose values are devotion, discipleship, and diversity. 
I have Christian friends of many races. 
And yet, the divide still feels great. 
Sometimes the weight of racial division in the U.S. feels so great I'm left paralyzed to do anything.
And I think a lot of us can agree with that feeling. 
We think the problem is too big, so we do nothing. 
And although this is an easy place to land, I know God has called me to do more.
To trust him to bring racial reconciliation to our community and for me to do my part in that. 

So I asked myself, what could I do in my sphere of influence? What could my contribution be? I love writing and love people; why not start there? And this is how this blog collaboration was born. Since I write in my blog, albeit infrequent, I know I have a diverse readership, which isn't something I see often. Typically I see blogs that either speak to white women or women of color. I rarely find writing that intentionally has both in mind. I wanted to change that, so I decided to bring three of my friends along for the journey. Precious, Amy, & Joy are all insightful and engaging writers who love Jesus. They are women I admire, women I trust, and women whose lights shine brightly. These are the type of women everyone deserves to hear from. We each committed to write an essay focused around themes of racial reconciliation and privilege from our unique lived experiences. We also committed to share the other three posts on our respective blogs so our readers are exposed to multiple perspectives.

A four week blog series isn't going to end systemic racism or racial division; however, I know God has called me to do something, and I will obey. As well, I know God can and does use us to advance his kingdom even if I have no clue what the outcome of this collaboration will be. God has only asked me to have a willing heart and trust him to do the rest. And that's what I'm going to do - follow God's prompting and trust he will use four women to begin conversation around racial reconciliation because God's heart is to see his people unified and reconciled.

So as you journey with us, I pray your heart will be open to what God wants to reveal to you.

I pray you would open your heart to each of our perspective that were uniquely designed by God.

I pray you are empowered to do something based on your role in racial reconciliation.

I pray you would be quick to listen and slow to speak.

How gracious of God to use someone as broken as me for his glory. How will he use you?


*****

Mika Karikari is a proud Black woman who loves Jesus, baking, sports, and writing. She currently spends most of her time reading and writing for her PhD program in higher education administration. She lives in her beloved hometown, Cincinnati, Ohio with her handsome husband. Mika's writing can be found on her blog, I am Enough. It currently focuses on grief, social justice, poetry, and faith.