Just showing up

“Maybe I shouldn’t be here.”

The doubts came on almost instantly, brought about, no doubt, by the fact that I wasn’t seeing as many familiar faces as I would have liked or expected to see. (Cue social awkwardness in 3…2…1)

The church was emptier than I had anticipated. Not an aching, slap-in-the-face empty like Marlene’s funeral had been, but my guess would be that there were not more than 200 people present. It didn’t feel like it was enough.

It also felt so disjointed in a way that I don’t think Rick would have wanted it to be. Skot Welch‘s eulogy gave much honor to Rick’s work, but I felt like the message of racial reconciliation was too sanitized overall…as if the message was muted. Dear God, at my funeral I want people to be pounding their fists on the table, shouting against injustice, breaking the uninitiated out of their kum-ba-yah complacency.

(Someone later pointed out to me that this wasn’t Rick’s way…he approached these issues with grace and gentleness…so probably this is my bias. Also, I do need to acknowledge that some people (most normal people?!) would think that this was not the time or the place for such a rant.)

But if others I’d been expecting to see weren’t there, should I really be? I started to doubt myself. I had asked to leave work early so that I could sleep a few extra hours before the funeral. I had struggled to articulate to my boss the relationship I had with this…friend? colleague?  We had worked together, had common passions, spoke the same “language” when it came to issues of white privilege and injustice. But sitting there, alone, I was starting to feel like a fraud.

I’ve long wrestled with the vagaries of funeral rituals. The question I posed once of whether it’s more appropriate for a casual acquaintance to go to the wake* or the funeral itself was never quite resolved, with people landing solidly on either side of the issue. Today’s funeral was one of the type that seems to be more common this days…no separate visitation time, just a time to greet the family in the hour preceding the funeral. I debated whether or not to come and “greet the family”. I’ve never met the family…except for his “brother” and co-host Skot Welch. I came most of all because I wanted to hug Skot, to tell him how very much I ache for him, how I of all people understand how important friends are, and that there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. If I could do that one thing, perhaps my presence there could be redeemed.

I wrote most of this (up until this point) during the funeral…on my phone. I imagine that the people sitting behind me were glaring at me disapprovingly, thinking I was on Facebook or some such nonsense. How to explain to them–to anyone, really–that I need to write in order to process?

The service was over, right on the hour, and I made my way out of the sanctuary. Skot was standing right near the door, and in my typical rude fashion, I cut in on a conversation he was having to give him a hug and to tell him how sorry I was. I ran into a few other friends, brothers and sisters in this work.  I almost felt redeemed. I was simply showing up. Whether or not I felt I had the “right” to be there, it was done. I had been there.

And hopefully, just showing up was enough.

*I had a friend tell me that calling it a “wake” is antiquated and conjures up images of drunken Irishmen. East Coast friends would disagree, and old habits die hard.

Sunday blogging against racism–love your hair, but not because I said you should.

So yeah . . . of course I absolutely love this video . . . but I keep hearing people say, “Oh, this adoptive father wrote this for his daughter, who is from Ethiopia, isn’t that so nice?” Well, yeah, it’s sweet and all, blah blah blah, but how long is it going to take before black folks can like their hair just because THEY decided to like their hair, and not because we benevolent white folks have given them “permission”?

I’m glad that this white father of an African-American daughter is conscious of these issues, and cares about his daughter’s self-image. Still, I long for the day when we as white people will stop feeling like we get to be the ones to give black women ‘permission” to call the hair God gave them “beautiful” . . .

Sunday blogging against . . . myself?

It has to have been seven or eight months since this happened, but it has haunted me ever since. So much so, in fact, that I have resisted writing about it here out of my embarrassment and shame. But, delinquent blogger that I am, I have to write something, and so here goes . . .

I was in the food court at the mall, and because I was still recovering from my ankle surgery last year, I was maneuvering with the help of Speed Racer. Sara had Elijah and was getting herself settled with him, and I was trying to get Chinese food and make my way back to the table. Yes, on one leg and while trying to maneuver a tray of food.

An African-American woman at the next counter over saw me struggling and had compassion on me. She told her son (who was about 9 or 10) to come over and offer to help me, which he did.

I was not paying attention to my surroundings, as usual, and so did not notice this sweet young man coming up to me until he was right next to me. When I realized he was trying to speak to me, I jumped . . . as I was trying to get his words to translate from my ears to my brain (something I tend to have trouble with under any circumstances), I looked at him with a panicked, forced smile and shook my head while sputtering something like, “no, thank you, I’ve got it, but I appreciate the offer”. I think I then said something about how I was shaking my head “yes” while saying “no” with my mouth–something like, “I know that I’m shaking my head the opposite of what I am saying”–but I don’t know. maybe I’m not remembering that part correctly.

I know I am remembering the forced, automatic and fake smile, though. My facial muscles still ache with self-condemnation every time I think about it.

I have so many excuses for why I jumped out of my skin when he approached me. Primary among those is the fact that having both ADHD and PTSD means that I both zone out easily and startle easily. One of my coworkers, after having seem me react that way one time too many, has taken to using very deliberate footsteps when she approaches me. I hate when I am jumpy like that, because it is never in any way the fault of the person who has (unintentionally) startled me, but people quite often take it personally.

But I have no excuse. This sweet, polite young man had absolutely no  reason to interpret the look of terror in my eyes, combined with the fake, plastered smile and meaningless words, as anything other than what I fear it really was.For this young man, and for his mother, my personal history was not even a factor. I am certain that they could only assume I was reacting in that over-exaggerated way because of a fear or a distrust of black men. How could it be interpreted any other way?

I still wish to this day that I had gone back to them and said something. I sometimes fantasize that I’ll somehow run into them again and will be able to make my apology, even though I barely remember what they looked like anymore. And I don’t want to give a complicated justification for my actions–“It’s unconscious–it’s a learned response”, blah blah blah, shut up, Lorraine . . . I just want to tell him how very, very sorry I am.

All I know is that in that moment, I wounded the heart of that little boy, and somehow sent the message that, no matter how many kind things he might do in his life, that there are always going to be white women reacting in unfounded fear at the very sight of him. And as I sat down for dinner with my own precious brown-skinned godson Elijah sitting next to me, my heart broke at the thought that he too will grow up in a world where people will instinctively and automatically jump in fear when they see him coming . . . even if he is the sweetest little boy in the world, and even if he comes with the most altruistic of motives . . . because at the end of the day, the inheritance we’ve all carried down through the years is one of mistrust, of irrational fear, and of unconscious, yet immediate judgments based on appearance.

I do not want Elijah to have to face the reality that I subjected this boy to . . . this young man who only wanted to be helpful, but who got only disdain and disrespect in return.

I can’t go back to that day and change my actions . . . all I can do is to continue to fight this monster of racism that rears its ugly head so often. I owe it to that young man to do so. I owe it to Elijah. And I owe it to myself, because this below-the-surface racism is a poison that needs to be eliminated from my body, mind and soul.

I’m so sorry, young man, wherever you may be. I’m sorry that you have to face a world filled with people like me. But I have to thank you as well, because your kind gesture taught me so much more than you will ever know.

Sunday blogging against racism: the cost of doing the right thing.

So I was only peripherally aware of this situation until I saw the “resolution” and decided to read more. Let’s see if I can briefly (me?!) summarize the situation . . .

A Christian publisher, Zondervan, apparently released a men’s book recently that had some pretty overt and stereotypical Asian content. Apparently the title of the book played off of this cluster of stereotypes, and to add insult to injury, the marketing campaign went even further.

A handful of Asian-American bloggers challenged both Zondervan and the book’s authors about the hurtful nature of these stereotypes. The part that really caught my attention was when Zondervan CHOSE TO DO THE RIGHT THING–they acknowledged that they had been wrong, and pulled the books. ALL of the books. (doing the right thing is usually not cheap, either.)

I read the blog entry of one of the people originally involved in the conversation about this, and found this blogger to be gracious, kind, and extremely generous to the authors. He had actually already reached out to one of the authors, and was hoping he would be able to meet the other one. Having come into this debate very late in the game, my sense was that this man was a complete gentleman and extremely gracious despite the pain that this incident had caused him.

I was almost in tears for Zondervan’s act of bravery, blown away by the fact that they had admitted their sin and had enough courage to remedy the situation. It was one of those moments where I felt a glimmer of hope for the future of the church, when for a brief moment, I wasn’t quite as weary on this journey as I so often am.

And then I started reading the comments on this gentleman’s blog . . . and as I did, that hope I had felt began to fade.

White (I’m assuming) Christians, oblivious to their white privilege and to the offense that had been caused in this situation, were spewing accusations TOWARDS THIS BLOGGER and towards the other Asian-Americans involved in this conversation. I usually don’t read more than a handful of comments, but I think I read almost 2/3 of them this time.

The accusations were ugly. Not only had these meddling Asians caused Zondervan to cowtow to the secular god of political correctness, they had also surely cost the salvation of millions of (purportedly white) men whose lives had been changed by this ministry. (Because Jesus is incapable of changing men’s lives without the help of one particular book/website?)

Oh, and also–the Asians made the Body of Christ look bad because they had dragged this all out in the public square, where millions of non-Christian Facebookers and Tweeters would see how horribly divided the Christians were.

(might the non-Christian world not instead be amazed by the testimony of humility and grace displayed in the resolution of this situation? And at any rate, I don’t think we have the option anymore in the 21st century to NOT be in the public square when it comes to social media. and one more thing–it’s my understanding that a bunch of people were Tweeting about what a stupid decision Zondervan had made . . . is THAT glorifying God?!)

I was flabbergasted by this backlash, until I remembered that the thing that keeps racism going is its invisibility. I was watching the wages of white privilege unfold right before my eyes. We white folks don’t get it–and we don’t NEED to get it. We are not “the other”, and that “other” makes an extremely convenient target when we don’t want to look at ourselves.

I know that I have a problem following up when it comes to this type of thing, but I really want to write to Zondervan and tell them how thrilled I am that they chose to do what was right, even at such a great cost (and I am speaking of more than the financial cost).

The reaction to this is proof positive that we have so far to go in fighting this disease of racism . . . and though I rejoice in small victories, I am still sometimes so overwhelmed by the seemingly never-ending road that we still have to travel.

My prayer is that more and more people and organizations will have the courage to do what Zondervan did–to admit to their blindness to the racism that wounds our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to take steps towards seeing, even when that seeing is painful.

Sunday blogging against racism #12b–The Price of Sugar

I saw this documentary yesterday–Thank GOD for the $3.50 theater, which besides being affordable (as long as you don’t want to eat anything!), is also bringing a number of documentaries into this sorry old town.

The movie was only in Grand Rapids for a few days, but I’m guessing that it will be out on video fairly soon, if it isn’t already–so add it to your NetFlix list NOW. And read more about how you can take action against this modern-day slavery (at different points in the movie, it is referred to as “almost” slavery or “quasi-slavery”–BULLSHIT! There’s nothing “quasi” about it!)  that is taking place right in our own hemisphere, and with generous subsidies from the US Government.

 One of my friends expressed concern that this documentary would hold up the “white man” as the hero, and to some extent that is the case, but more than that, it seems to me that (at least in one pivotal scene near the end of the movie), it’s the CHURCH–God’s people standing together–that comes across as the TRUE hero.

But when you see it, you can let me know what you think . . .