Thursday, November 30, 2017

After This I Looked

20,000 people standing together in a great crowd, singing without the help of guitar or drum, just voices. People from countries all over the world. From every state in the union. People who spoke English and Mandarin and Spanish and Igbo. People who were joined together, in all their beautiful differences, by their belief in a good and beautiful God.

I once stood in the midst of such a gathering.
Putting that moment into words is nearly impossible. That many voices joined as one. To be able to hear the solitary voice next to me while at the same time hearing the words "Hallelujah, salvation and glory" sung in glorious harmony by thousands of others, a song that literally shook the rafters of that colosseum, well, there are really no words.
It was a taste, just a taste, of heaven. 
And it was a taste that I know has driven much of who I have become. 
Revelation 7: 9-11 says this:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

That scripture, that perfect picture of humans, fully reconciled, fully themselves, worshiping together in harmony. Not in one assimilated "heavenly" language. Not as ethereal whitish beings floating around. But as God's glorious creation, without hatred, beautiful in their outward differences, free from division, worshiping as one.

That picture is beauty my friends. 

And that scriptural picture is one I hold tightly side by side with my shining earth-bound moment of tasting it. I let it drive what I see and what I hope for. I let it color my conversations and anchor my faith. I learned at some point to pray the Lord's Prayer often and fervently. To pray it as more than a discipline, but as a declaration. The calling down of God's presence here on earth. Saying over and over again "on earth as it is in heaven" and believing that even though we know the world will always be broken, that God is active and loving and calling us into the work of hope and action that believes we can see the beauty of heaven in the everyday. 

For the last three months, I have been privileged to co-lead a group that is trying, in our tiny little corner of Virginia, to be a part of inviting God's will for reconciliation and diversity into our church. 

For three months, we have studied the scriptures and talked about justice and oppression and hope. For three months we have talked about slavery and the Native American Genocide, about power, about Black Lives Matters and police brutality, about unfair housing practices and redlining and whitewashed school curricula and segregation and white supremacy. We have talked about awareness and self-education and lament and repentance and forgiveness. We have shared our own experiences of race in America and in the church. There has been anger and defensiveness and tears and frustration and guilt. And sometimes, yes, even joy and laughter.

It has NOT been easy. 


Because it is not supposed to be easy. 

in his book "Coming Together: The Bible's Message in an Age of Diversity" Curtiss DeYoung says this says this:

"Systems of injustice in society and in the church exact a heavy cost on those outside the centers of power and effectively block reconciliation" and "declaring that we are equal without repairing the wrongs of the past is cheap reconciliation."

The true work of reconciliation is deep, hard, soul-wrenching work. 

We could have sat around and declared our equality in God's sight and charged forward together singing Kum-Ba-Yah. But that is what churches have done over and over again and change never happens. It's cheap reconciliation that is not founded on repentance and hope. It's cheap reconciliation that seeks action without personal and communal repentance. 

We wanted better for our church. For our tiny little piece of heaven on earth. Our emotions in this process don't scare God. The Be the Bridge curriculum we have used says that the "ultimate aim of reconciliation is the restoration of broken relationships, whether between individuals or entire communities. True reconciliation requires commitment and sacrifice from both sides." 

As anyone knows, the work of restoring relationships is some of the hardest work we are ever called to do. It can be painful. It can require us to work through anger and bitterness. It usually invites us to lay ourselves down for one another. That is messy, gospel work.

So here we are: 
Men and women (with a few precious faces missing) who participated
Black and white. Men and women. American-born and internationals. Northerners and southerners. Republicans and Democrats and Independents.

Falling at the throne of God together to ask for deep grace and forgiveness. Admitting the ways we have not known. The ways we have failed to act. The ways we have chosen comfort over risk. And clinging to the hope and beauty of the cross together as we do it. 

We want more. More for our church. Our neighborhoods. Our schools. Our nation. 

And so we will continue to meet. We'll talk about reparations and restoration. We'll dig into the continual and cyclical process of awareness, acknowledgment, lament, repentance and forgiveness.

And we will do it together, messily and unashamedly and in ways that will bring healing and positive changes to the world around us.

Because that, my friends, is what the church does.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Very Potter Birthday

Some things in life are just obvious.

There was clearly no question of how we were going to celebrate our Harry Potter-loving child turning 11. We've know for a year that this year would be the year we had a Hogwarts party.

And friends, this is when the internet pays off. Yes, we came up with some ideas ourselves, but we also had a ton of fun looking through different ideas and getting ready together for this party.

So, without further ado, I present to you our Very Potter Birthday.

First, we sent out the invitations. Each one individualized, printed on parchment paper and sealed with a wax seal. (And big thanks to my friend, Kim, who happens to own a wax stamp with the letter "H", thereby making this a very cheap project.)

Next it was on to planning the day out. We knew we wanted to have the guests arrive in style.

Josh greeted them at the door and let them choose a fun name tag for the day. We printed out a lot of the major characters and added a little Hogwarts Crest in the corner. The kids loved choosing who they would be.

Next, I (as Professor McGonagall, of course), offered the kids a sweet treat from Honeyduke's Sweet Shop while they waited for other guests to arrive. Click here to find the recipe we used to make these Acid Pops.

Next we had fun bringing the kids through the front door which we had fashioned to look like Platform 9 3/4. I had a lot of fun with this one. Used a white sheet, a bunch of paint, a sponge and voila, which was an idea I got from this You Tube Video. As they walked in, we had the sountrack to the movies playing in the background to add a little ambiance.

After the kids came into the Wizarding World, I ushered them into our very own version of Ollivander's Wand Shop. I blindfolded each kid in turn and they were chosen by a wand, which they were allowed to keep as a party favor. They were pretty excited about this!

To make the wands (because goodness knows I was not about to buy 10 wands), I used this awesome tutorial. The kids were all pretty impressed and wanted to know how I had made them. And any project where I get to use my glue gun gets me pretty pumped.

Next we headed downstairs to let Oliver Wood tell us how to play Quidditch. We played the three minute scene from the first movie where he explains the game to Harry. Then we split the kids up into two teams, Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. They got really into this and we had three awesome games of backyard Quidditch!

After Quidditch, the kids took a break and fed Scabbers. (Really, this is our guinea pig, Loretta, but I couldn't resist.)
Reading Clues on the Horcrux Hunt
Next, it was time for the Horcrux Hunt. This was something we came up with on our own. I wrote out two sets of six rhyming clues each and hid a locket and a ring. The kids raced each other as teams to see who could find their Horcrux first. Again, they loved this!

By now the kids were tired and hungry, so we settled down to eat in the Great Hall.

Josh and I came up with these floating candles. He covered empty paper towel rolls with white duct tape. I mod-podged it to make sure it stayed on. He cut little pieces of cardboard out and placed them just inside the tube, held tight with hot glue. We punched two holes and threaded white thread through and attached them to the ceiling. Then we turned on electric tea lights and rested them inside on the pieces of cardboard. It was a really neat effect. We then just scattered more electric tea lights around the room and lowered the lights. We put up the four House Crests on the window, which added a nice touch.

I also had fun making these authentic Butterbeers! I used this recipe and filled these bottles that I had covered with a free printable and mod podge. So easy and they loved it. I let them keep the bottles as another party favor. 

We followed the meal up with these fun Wizard Hat Cupcakes to round out the party. 

Though the best present in the world would be my ability to actually make Hogwarts a real place, we settled for this party and I think his smile says it all :)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Heart Breaking

There are moments, as a parent, when your heart actually breaks.

Some kinds are the good breaking - the moment a child is born, the day one comes home with you, the first time he calls you mama. The kind of breaking that expands your heart to love more than you thought you ever could.

Then there are the other kinds. The kind of breaking that makes you sweat and scream and makes you cling harder and closer to the cross than you ever thought you'd need to. The kind that comes with loss and illness. The kind that comes when your child is wronged or hurt by another. The kind that you cannot prevent. The kind that makes it clear that you, ultimately, have no control.

There was a moment this week.

It was one I knew would happen at some point. I knew they were words he would hear. I didn't know how and when they would come and I readied myself for it the best I could.

But there is no way to truly be ready to hear your own child tell you that someone told him his skin is "ucky, ucky" and that it "looks like it has poopoo on it."

At the ripe old age of 3.5, my son now knows what it feels like to be othered because of the color of his skin. And not just othered, but othered in a negative way. Last I heard, describing someone as the color of poop was not a compliment.

And I know some people might read this and have one of the following reactions.

(1) It was a little kid. He or she didn't mean any harm.
(2) Your son might be making it up. Preschoolers aren't necessarily trustworthy.
(3) That's not prejudice, it's just a childish observation.

If you thought one or more of those things, I'm going to ask you to pause for a minute. To ask God why your first response was skepticism or dismissal.

And honestly? If your first response isn't sadness or shock or anger, I really hope that you and I can grab coffee soon. We can't hash out what's going on through facebook. Seriously, call, text or email now and let's chat.

Because here is the deal.

I sat on my son's bed with him. I asked him how his day at school was. And anyone who knows him, knows that he is exuberant. Lively. Spirited. Funny. That his normal reaction to anything that goes wrong in his day is anger and frustration.

He is almost never sad.

But this day? This day, he told me a story. THIS story. And I asked him how it made him feel. He said he didn't know. My child is not one to be without words. But his body language, friends. His shoulders were slumped. He had trouble meeting my eyes. I asked him every question I know to ask a preschooler to discern whether he is telling the truth or making up a story. (Particularly given some recent encounters with his holding the distinction between fantasy and reality fairly lightly.) He stuck to it. He used the same words every time. And he was sad. He laid on my chest and, friends, oh friends, he told me that he wants to be white so no one says that to him again.

And my heart broke into a million pieces.

As a transracial adoptive parent, I knew this would happen. I know that it's actually normal for children to want to look like their parents. I didn't panic. We will work through that part of it. Every day.

But I held him. I held him tight. I hurt with him in his pain. And I whispered words of love and beauty. I told him that this little friend was wrong. I didn't tell him that child didn't mean it. I am not going to lessen the impact of what he was feeling. I can't know the intention of why that little child said what he did. Even if I did, intention doesn't matter in this case. In this case, my son heard that he was different and that that difference is bad. That made an impact on him. And it won't be the only time hears it. Next time the words might be worse.

Please hear me loud and clear.


What we teach our children from day one makes a difference. The books we read to them. The churches we go to. The ways we choose to give them language (or not) to understand that God's image resides beautifully in all backgrounds of people. When we teach them these things, we aren't teaching them to "see color" as so many people put it. Science has proven that from the tender age of six months, kids see it. It is our job as parents to help them understand it.

Why in the actual world would we leave them to make their own judgment call on this when the world around them has spent thousands of years making the wrong judgment calls on this? Why would we leave something that has the power to cause so much hurt up to a child to figure out? Why would we possibly trust them to get this right when generations of people have othered and murdered and stolen from others because they have gotten it wrong over and over and over again.

I don't know this child and I don't know his parents. I know my son's teacher and I am grateful that she was upset about this. That she was the opposite of dismissive. Grateful that she brought in pictures of her own children who don't look like her and showed them to my son and affirmed his beauty and worth. Grateful that she is the kind of teacher who recognizes it as part of her job to talk about this. Not all teachers would.

You want to know why I say what I do and write what I do and lead groups like I do to talk about this? You want to know why I am working with a friend to develop a PTA training for parents on how to talk to their children about race? You want to know why I cared about this long before I had two black sons who would experience it firsthand?

Because I had friends, close friends who told me the truth.

Because I saw my own biases and lamented and confessed and ask the Holy Spirit every day to keep rooting them out and changing me.

Because I learned to see that this was all over scripture, from day one, and that God's heart breaks for injustice more than I can ever understand.

Because I have a deep hope that if we can change the conversation in this next generation, that maybe, finally, we can start to see some change.

And because of those things, I speak. I speak to children and to adults about what I believe to be true - that God intended our differences to be beautiful, to reveal the vastness of his character, but that the world uses them to divide. I hold my own kids tight and attempt to undo the messages the world is sending them. And not just to undo them, but to replace them. To replace them with the truth that they are beautiful and precious and loved in His sight. That their color is on purpose. That my white son with his blond hair and blue eyes is beautiful and made in God's image. That my black sons with their curly dark hair and brown eyes are beautiful and made in God's image.

God doesn't make mistakes. So many people think that colorblindness is the Christian way to respond but I haven't found a single scripture to support it.

The world is not colorblind, my friends, and neither is God.

So friends, let's wake up and listen. Let's tell our kids the truth when we hold them tight.

And then watch them change the world.