Category: Justice

Talking about Race in our families

When I was in my 20s, I was out shopping with a friend in Washington, D.C. As part of Lutheran Volunteer Corps, I was working at a post-residential treatment shelter for homeless women in recovery from substance abuse. But on that day, my day off, I was out with Sharon, one of my supervisors and mentors.

We walked into a boutique, and the saleswoman walked up to me — just me — and asked if she could help me. And I was floored — Sharon was the one with the income, the responsibility, the purchasing power. And Sharon was Black. That was my first experience clearly recognizing the unearned privilege I have in this world.

I spent three hours this morning in a group of about 15 people facilitating conversation about race and how we talk with kids about race and racism. And I walked away feeling encouraged. We shared stories, questions, concerns, ideas. And the conversation was lively and heartfelt.

This is a passion of mine, for lots of reasons. I work in a really diverse environment. There are people I love dearly in my family and community who have been and probably will continue to be deeply negatively impact by the racist structures that surround us. I’m part of a church system that is the whitest church in the country, and I want us to look more like the communities in which we exist.

So it encouraged me a lot to be in a group that was mostly, but not all Lutheran. Mostly, but not all white. Mostly, but not all straight. We were parents, teachers, grandparents, pastors, aunts and uncles, and most of all, people who care about the future of young people and our communities.

We talked about why “colorblindness” isn’t a helpful strategy for us or for kids — in her new book “Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America,” Jennifer Harvey notes that

Equality is an important aspiration. It is a value many of us long to implement. But it is a very abstract notion. When it’s used as a way to teach race it becomes an empty mantra. As I often say to my college students, ‘Yes, we’re all human, at our core. But have you ever met another human who had no race, no gender, no sex, no class, and so on?’ They always answer no. ‘That’s right,’ I respond, ‘the only way we show that we actually respect our shared humanity, is by taking people’s specific, diverse experiences of their humanity very seriously.’

We also talked about a lot of strategies … a great list of ideas we used came from here.

We plan to offer this again. Soon there will be an opportunity to be part of an online group reading Waking Up White: Finding Myself in the Story of Race.

But in the meantime, where do YOU think this conversation needs to go? What would you participate in? How can we further these conversations and growth toward a racially just community and world?


A Breath of Fresh Air, Part 2

The image of breathing fresh air has captured my imagination lately.

In part, it’s because I’m doing the Clean Air Challenge in a few weeks (and, realized last night that it’s a week earlier than I had on my calendar … whoops!), and that’s all about breath and air. The Clean Air Challenge is a long bike ride (up to 100 miles … last year Erin and I rode 60. This year, due to injuries and stress and other factors, it will be less) out of Talkeetna that raises money for the American Lung Association, trying to make the world a better place for people with lung diseases — asthma, COPD, lung cancer, etc. People like me, and a lot of people I care about deeply.

But I also just got back from my second service trip to rural Guatemala, a small village in the highlands of Quiche.

One of the most fun things about visiting Esquipulas is getting to know the children, who are fascinated with us and the pictures we take on our smart phones. 

However, this time I noticed something different.

When I held this sweet baby, I noticed her cough.

Her sister also coughed.

These kids … I also heard coughing.

Kids cough. I was a Children’s Hospital Chaplain for over a decade, and I’ve been around a lot of kids coughing. And I finally get that when I get sick each January, and my cough lasts for 6-7 weeks, that’s likely got a lot to do with my asthma.

But where we were in Guatemala, there’s one doctor for about every 10,000 people. 

The infant mortality rate in this area is in the mid-twenties per 1,000 (compared to 5-6 deaths per 1,000 in Alaska). And the leading causes of death for kids under 5 years old are respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal illnesses.

Again and again during this trip, I was grateful for the work of Medical Teams International, to get a clean-burning stove in the home of each family with children under the age of 2, replacing smoky open fires in homes. Still, it was sobering to realize with each cough that it could be so much more significant — even life-threatening — than what I think of here at home when I hear someone cough.

(*I also love that Medical Teams International does important work all over the world, including in Syria and South Sudan)

I’m a hospital chaplain. I watch people die because of respiratory illnesses. For a while, I probably knew a majority of people in Alaska with cystic fibrosis. And I think one of the scariest things I witness in our ER is how it feels for someone to not be able to breathe.

And so I’ll ride. And I’ll ask for your help, because a breath of clean air isn’t something we should take for granted. But it’s something I want us all to have.

You can join me in supporting the work of the American Lung Association here.

Guatemalan joy

I think what I want to remember most about this last week in Guatemala was all the laughter, and the smiles.

At Parque Cerro de la Cruz, Antigua, Guatemala

Unselfconscious, genuine laughter, in all kinds of circumstances.

I love that I caught Candelaria in this moment of laughter, holding her sweet daughter Gabriela.

I loved that while we were hauling aluminum gutters from the church to the bus, a group of mothers and daughters and I smiled at each other and giggled, with them pointing and laughing and shyly looking away … it didn’t matter whether we spoke English, Spanish or Pokomchi. The laughter was universal. 

And our team recalled several times that during our first water system installation, when we had to figure out how to make the gutters and PVC pipe slope down into the water tank that was in fact at a higher level than the house, the response of the masons working with us wasn’t frustration, wasn’t anger, wasn’t blaming or giving up. They laughed, and tried different things, listened to others’ ideas, and kept working. Ingenuity won the day, with the help of laughter. The solution? Raising the roof.

I still can’t wrap my head around the poverty we witnessed. Can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a place with no water source — no well or stream or lake or community water system. What it would be like to live on $2 a day or less. To have the experience of the death of a child — or children — be more common than not. 

But the laughter is a sign of resilience, and a sign of hope. I see it at the hospital too, sitting with a family after a death, sharing stories, and unfathomably laughing. Not in denial or with bitterness, but because the human spirit is strong, and perhaps inclined toward joy.

And so I want to remember the laughter. Of teammates who began as strangers and ended up as friends. Gladis, whose laugh is like a bubbling stream, tumbling over itself. Romeo, whose laugh is somewhere between a giggle and a chuckle, and an utterly genuine sound. Edy, whose laugh is gentle and kind and makes me smile. Trying to describe laughter to Isaias at dinner, when we couldn’t remember the word in Spanish (it’s “reirse,” to laugh) … until he started laughing.

I want to remember that, and so much more about this journey. The laughter is a good place to start.

Fishing Lessons and Refugees

Four walls and a cross, a font and a table might be important, but they aren’t much if we aren’t bringing God’s good news to where people are, to where it is desperately needed. And I think especially right now, we need to remember the many ways Jesus went to the people. He went to the people who were suffering. People who were sick in need of healing. People who were outcast, who were untouchable. He provided food for the hungry. Good news for the poor. Setting the oppressed free. If we are to take seriously what it means to be Christian, to follow Christ, we need to take these words very seriously.

Mary, Do You Know La Malinche? – Sarah Degner Riveros — We Talk. We Listen.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is hands-down one of the most fascinating people in all history. Praised and doubted, her integrity questioned not only in her own life time (Matthew 1:19) but also in ours, Christmas is the time of year when the Church ponders her the most. However, in a special pre-Christmas post, Sarah Degner Riveros shares with […]

via Mary, Do You Know La Malinche? – Sarah Degner Riveros — We Talk. We Listen.

Trees, poetry, beauty, sitting

Aspen Trees, Matanuska Glacier

Feeling my way through these days, I’m grateful for trees, for wisdom, for beauty, for listening, for poetry.

Today, that wisdom comes from Wendell Berry.

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight./What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

May we find a way beyond fear. May we continue our labor for a just world where all are welcome. May we hear our song and sing it. May we take the time to go among trees and sit still.

And tomorrow I’ll return to the beautifully diverse hospital where I work. Where I’ll stand ready to listen, to companion and comfort the suffering. Where we’ll work together at healing, caring particularly for the poor and vulnerable. Where I’ll continue to speak justice and hope. And I’ll stay close to the trees, and find ways to be still.