Monday, December 5, 2016

Angels

Just a few weeks ago, my middle child pulled out a book that had been in storage since last Christmas. Last year, he wasn't quite ready for it. It had a lot of words that required the art of sitting still for more than roughly 4 seconds at a time. Not his jive just yet.

This year he can, just occasionally, enjoy a good book. And as we read through it for the first time, his eyes got big. He pointed and asked questions. And every day he asks to read it again.

The book?

An Angel Just Like Me by Mary Hoffman

It's the story of a young black boy during Advent who wonders why all the angels he sees are blonde girls. Who wonders if it's possible that an angel could look any differently. Who goes looking in store after store to find an angel just like him.

Ultimately, he can't find one. And a family friend, an artist, comes to the rescue and makes him one. He opens it Christmas Day in wonder...and then asks if his artist friend can make more for all his other friends that wonder if there are angels just like them.

It's a beautiful story. My son's very favorite.

And when we get to the end, my son always points to the black boy angel and says "Just like Nate?"

Yes, buddy. He looks just like you.

Maybe the concept of angels not all being white is new to you. Maybe the concept that people in heaven will not be some weird pale ghostly representation of humans is surprising. But God makes it clear in the scriptures that he has made us all in his image. And that when we share that heavenly feast some day we will not actually look all that different from how we do now. Because how we look now is beautiful and purposeful and good.

My son has noticed his skin is brown from before he could really articulate it. He would point to black characters in books and then to his own skin. He would run to black men on the playground and yell "Daddy!" (Yes, that was painful for most involved.) He thinks he is handsome with his dark skin and black curls and brown eyes. And he's right. He's pretty dang handsome.

But a lot of what he sees around him, in stores, on billboards, in the toys at school or the nursery? A lot of those things are white. White people playing. White people speaking. White characters in books.

And because he has white parents and a brother, he sees a lot of white at home, too.

And friends, it's ok. White isn't bad. God made me this way. And my husband. And my firstborn.

But if white is all he ever sees, he can unconsciously believe it's better. That it's more desirable. That it's somehow more important.

And that is the last thing we want him to believe about us or himself.

So when we read a book like that? And he relates to the character?

Well, Mama starts combing the stores. Where can I find an angel just like him? And one that he can touch and hold (read, not breakable) and doesn't cost more than I can afford?

Well, almost nowhere, to be honest.

I had just put on my list for this week to get to a craft store, buy an angel and paint it black. Because I wanted him to have that angel he so desperately wanted. And when you can't find what you need, you make it, right?

This morning, I posted a picture on my facebook page of a Santa canvas that I had painted for him a year ago. Well, really, I painted it for all my boys. I don't want my white son to grow up in a white-washed world any more than I want that for my black sons or for me. Culture and differences are rich. I want us to bask in them around here.

I posted that Santa picture and shared a story about how much it meant to him to have a black santa in our house.

And just a few hours later, I was out walking my youngest. A neighbor of ours, one I am just getting to know, ran out of her house with a gift for us. She smiled, walked up to me and handed me a black angel. A black boy angel. That happened to look a LOT like my boys.




I was almost speechless. I assumed she had seen my post this morning and was so grateful.

But no. She had seen me coming down the street. She had owned this angel for years and she just knew, in that moment, that it was for my sons.

Ya'll.

I picked up my son from preschool, brought him home and handed him that angel.

Pure. Joy.

"It's me?? It's me!!! I'm an angel!"

Yes, baby. You are.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Enough Already

I haven't written anything "political" on my blog since the morning after the election. I chose that day to share my own grief, my own fears for the future of my sons. I know a lot of people shared those deep feelings of heartache along with me and continue to do so.

I watched as the next few weeks have gone by as people have torn each other apart. How people who are angry have protested or rioted. How people who are hurt have shared that hurt in public forums for the first time. How people who are elated have either stayed silent to show restraint for those hurting or have gloated in hurtful ways.

Yes, my feed is full of many types. Those who are appalled right now. Those who aren't saying anything. And those who, largely, are telling the rest of us to move on. Get over it. Agree to disagree.

Yesterday, though, I watched a video. It was of an alt-right group hosting a conference in Washington, D.C. I felt like I was watching something that had to be fake. The anti-semitic remarks, the white nationalist pride, literally the use of the following words from Richard B. Spencer:

"To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer, a conqueror...And we recognize the central lie of American race relations. We don't exploit other groups, we don't gain anything from their presence. They need us, and not the other way around...We were not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures to ever populate the planet...America was, until this last generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity."

To hear and see something like this, proudly broadcast, was like watching a scene from a documentary from Nazi Germany made into color. To watch this happening in my own country brought a deep sense of shame.

People have largely laughed off the comparisons over the last year that some people have made of Trump to Hitler as overblown or unhistorical - I myself quoted Martin Niemoller in a post 6 months ago about remaining silent in the face of hateful rhetoric and stand by that post.

Do I think they are the same? Of course not. I have Jewish ancestry. I remember the long, painful day I once spent with my aunt in the National Holocaust Museum and how we combed the database looking up family members to learn their exact fate. I do not think Trump is Hitler. I do not think we are on the cusp of a holocaust in America.

What I do think is that the way he has spoken about many people groups, the way he has unashamedly mocked people, used inflammatory rhetoric, refused to denounce hate groups who have supported him...I do think that that behavior has opened the door to the absolute mess we are now seeing.

People who have always existed in hateful lifestyles and opinions now feel free to do it publicly in a way we haven't seen in decades. At least not on a national scale.

And as a mother and, frankly, a human being, I am appalled. Appalled that in 2016 there is a rising tide of people joining white supremacist groups in this country. Appalled that people didn't see this coming, that wrote off his rhetoric as "mere words." Appalled by the rise in hate crimes. Appalled that the best Trump can do is say "stop it" and do nothing at all to convince us he means it. Appalled that he is more offended by the cast of a Broadway show respectfully engaging his running mate than by the words of this group in D.C.

Words are powerful, my friends. Haven't we learned that by now?

So yes, I've sat by and watched our country spew hate at each other. I've seen people say that those who are hurting are "sore losers" who just have to move on. I have wondered if I even have anything to add to all the words being thrown around. But if I don't say something, I'm not sure I can look my sons in the eyes any longer.

What in the actual hell are we moving on to? WHAT? 

What I wish I had seen over the past week was just one pro-Trump friend of mine denouncing the Muslim registry. JUST ONE.

What I wish I had seen over the past 24 hours was just one person in my feed who unashamedly voted for Trump calling for him to denounce the alt-right movement as distinctly UN-American and, frankly, more dangerous than the foreign terrorism he so clearly fears and uses to demonize large swathes of people.

What I wish I had seen since he was elected was family and friends who voted for him denouncing his choices for cabinet members, his cronyism, the ways he is already doubling back on promises he made to them to clean up Washington and do things differently.

Because the bottom line, at least according to those who voted for him in my feed, is that they found him more trustworthy than Hillary.

Really? Trustworthy?

Friends, what are our children going to see right now?

Men who have their hands raised in the same salute that Nazis made to Hitler 80 years ago?

Or a president who will come out and say "Enough is enough" and move towards the people he has alienated over the past year and a half?

Will they see us bickering and name calling?

Or a generation of adults who are willing to fight for what is right when hate is attempting to define our generation?

I, at least, know what my sons will see and hear in this home.

We will preach love. We will preach forgiveness. We will preach truth.

And preaching those things means that we will stand up and say "no."

No to white supremacy. No to the alt-right. No to appointments of people who clearly only care about one group of Americans. No to people who would attempt to criminalize being Muslim. (And to those who would argue that they aren't attempting to criminalize but just register them...please read your history books. Nothing good ever comes to those who are set apart as "other." Tutsis, Jews, Poles, Armenians, Native Americans...the list goes on.)

Unfriend me if you will. Tell me I'm being overly emotional or overreacting. I don't think having a visceral reaction to an white nationalist rally is overly emotional. I think it's human. I will not be silent, I will not be complacent.

I would much rather fall on the side of vigilance and wariness than on the side of "wait and see" on this one.

And I will not move on if it means our country will become a more dangerous, more openly hateful place.

President-elect Trump, it's your move. Are you going to keep wasting our time on twitter or are you going to speak up? Enough already.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Landing

This morning, I walked into what is now likely to be our new church for the second time. I dropped the littlest ones off at the nursery without incident and Josh and I had a little time to rest quietly and just soak in the anticipation of spending time with other believers. This is definitely a first since we moved. Getting three little people to church on time while my husband is traveling, let alone early, is no easy feat.

An older white gentleman sat down next to us. He didn't leave that semi-awkward empty seat that people usually leave when they don't know you. He just sat down, stuck his hand out, introduced himself to both of us and asked me this question:

"How did you find our church?"

I answered him honestly, trusting that what I was seeing in his church would enable him to receive what I said without awkwardness. (Some white people panic when you use the word diversity. They just do.)

"Honestly, sir, I went to the website and clicked on leadership. I saw that you have a diverse team of leaders here and that's not easy to find."

He told me that he'd heard that before and that if that's what we were looking for, we'd find it here.

I don't doubt him. One look on stage shows me a black woman on drums, a diverse choir and a range of people of different backgrounds playing the instruments. A black pastor gets up to lead a time in prayer ministry and a white pastor gets up to share the word. As we pass the peace around us, we shake hands of people older than me and younger, children, black, white and latinx.

I watch the rows in front of me who are filled with hearing-impaired people who are worshiping through sign language, their voices quiet but their joy evident. They are led by a woman who is signing the words and songs of the service and clearly loves what she does. I didn't even know they had a hearing-impaired ministry but it starts a great conversation with my son.

My younger boys are with women of various backgrounds and children who look like them and their brother.

We could fit here.

Some might think that looking at the faces of a leadership team online is an irresponsible way to choose a church. Even racist.

But here's the deal.

When we adopted our sons, we made a choice. A conscious choice that we would not white-wash their world. That we would live in neighborhoods where they might make friends of multiple backgrounds. That they would not be the only black boys in their classes. That the churches we choose, especially as they grow and learn and begin to wrestle with what it means to be black boys with white parents in a racist America, those churches would have racial mirrors for them. Leaders, men and women, with voices of truth in their lives. Friends, boys and girls, who might look like them and their brother, who would wrestle through the chaos of growing up faithful in a world that may not understand that choice.

Many people look at denomination first. Or style of worship. Or the core set of beliefs. Or the type of children's ministry available. Or the mission statement. Or the location or stance on women in ministry or centrality of communion or...well, any number of pretty important issues.

For us, those things had to come second.

And you know what?

We don't want a diversity of leadership and congregation just for our boys. We want it for ourselves. To hear from people who are different from me: who didn't, in my case, grow up in a predominantly white, middle class, northeastern town. To hear from people of different ecumenical backgrounds than my husband and I were raised in. To value the incredibly beautiful diversity of God's church both in our every day lives and when we gather with the physical representation of that church each week.

So, yes.

We look first at that leadership page. And if the church at it's very core isn't reflecting what we hope to see in the larger congregation, we don't bother. We are a multiethnic family. This is a non-negotiable.

Will it mean that we might be in churches during the course of our lives that we don't 100% agree with.

YEP.

But since that has pretty much always been true of any church we've joined because my husband and I aren't the same exact person with the same exact beliefs, we've been there. Done that. And finding a community that loves God, loves others, strives for truth and justice and looks like our family is enough for us right now.

We don't need perfect theological alignment to dive in.

So, after almost five months of trial and error and visiting and praying, I think we may be landing.

And friends, it cannot come soon enough. This introvert is just about out of Sunday morning visitor small talk.