On trust, doubt, and loss.

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On Saturday, like many, I felt incredibly sad to hear that Rachel Held Evans had died

I mostly knew her through Twitter. We didn’t really interact there, but whenever I was wrestling with some injustice, I would see her comments on whatever had happened (a shooting, an anti-refugee statement, racism)  and always felt deeply thankful for her voice in the mix of all the other voices. She was always quick to respond with the love of Jesus. She reflected love in action. 

One thing she was known for was making space for people who wrestle with their faith. It’s important. It’s foolish to turn a blind eye to the need for making room for those who are in a chrysalis of doubt.

Tim Keller says, “A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person's faith can collapse almost overnight if she failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.”

Studies show that “of America's major faiths, mainline Protestants have the worst retention rate among millennials, with just 37% staying in the fold.”

The truth is that Christians need a clear, sacred space to wrestle with doubt and belief without feeling outcast from the communal space of believers. If questioning faith is off-limits, we risk losing the beautiful creation that is formed by a community of believers who have gone deep, seen the mystery, and chosen to continue on the path of Jesus.

Writers like Rachel put words and validity to questions that many people have, and yesterday and today I have seen hundreds of people telling their stories of wrestling with doubt, saying that Rachel’s writings helped them to the other side- through the cloud to something beautiful and new on the other side.

Faith is not a static thing that you hold or put in a box to keep precious and untouched. In fact, if you change the word faith to trust, you see that it always needs to be tethered to something out there. The massive, incredible presence that my trust is tethered to is God. But this line can be stretched or flown through thin air, it can go through flames, it can drag me through deep waters. 

In my life I wrestle, and in my belief I have moved through many stages, coming through painful processes into something deeper and more real each time. I have buried illusions I had about the perfection of community, what unity actually looks like, what is actually promised in Scripture. (Hint: You can follow Jesus and still have your friends die, your loved ones or yourself racially profiled, have a mental illness or neurological difference, get sick, or struggle with money.)

My journey is of mental illness and anxiety disorder. I have learned what it means to have faith when I don’t have a mind I can trust to be safe for me when I need it. How to have faith when what I see is not always actually there.

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Strong voices who offer sacred space for those in the margins, for those who struggle, voices who ask hard questions and wrestle with the answers are an essential part of the community of Christians. I also feel passionate about a diverse body of believers. I was charismatic growing up, I moved into a more contemplative faith. Now I’m some mix of the two who no longer knows how to worship in a room without windows because I’m so used to sitting where I can see the sky. I live life with people who come from different Christian backgrounds. And I know many more. Each one teaches me something different. Who would we be without the large body of believers? Without all the different flavors of who God is? He is reflected in a lovely way through all of us, even those who are struggling with doubt. Rachel asked hard questions and she wrestled on the behalf of those who needed someone to speak up for them. This is no small thing. It’s quite a legacy in a time when we are unbelievably polarized.

Rest in Peace, dear RHE.

Mary Oliver :: 1935-2019

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When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

*

Thank you beautiful poet. Your words have nourished us.

Learning to listen.

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Part 1.

I’ve been trying to write this post since I first read the about the tragic killing of Jemel Robersen. I think it hit me hard because of my naive believe that as soon as people learned about police brutality toward black Americans, it would stop. But it hasn’t stopped, and at the same time as seeing our awareness build, there is also a sort of defeat. How will it end?

I went searching for some statistics on mass shootings. Not my normal afternoon exercise, but it seemed important. Specifically I wanted to know how many mass shooters end up in custody rather than dying during the attack. 

Here’s what I have read in these statistics.**

First, police do extraordinary work in subduing and arresting mass shooters—people with weapons who have already used those weapons to kill and injure multiple people. And still somehow, in 90% of cases where the shooter does not kill himself, police manage to take the shooter into custody. Without killing him. In cases where the suspect has a gun, has proven he will use it, and has already taken lives. These are truly difficult situations of high danger, and they have the skills to take people in alive.

But then we have someone like 26-year-old Jemel Robersen, who was killed on duty as a security guard, doing his job as he apprehended a (white) shooter who opened fire in a bar in Chicago. Jemel did his work well, disarming and holding the shooter until police could arrive. He did what he was supposed to do. 

Doing what he was supposed to do didn’t help him be any safer. When police arrived, they saw a black man with a gun and shot him, ignoring the shouts of people around who said, “he’s one of us!” or “he saved us!” He died. The original gunman was taken into custody.

Like many other horrified people, I shared the article on Jemel Roberson on Facebook, and my brother-in-law commented, “The sad part is the culture has always been in the shadows. Now it's in the light. They always have been killing us. It's just on camera now. And they still won't stop.”

They have always been killing us. Here is the hard truth. Even though many police have the skill to de-escalate, black lives are simply worth less than white lives in America. 

White people have always been killing black people. 2 million deaths in the middle passage (slave ships from Africa to enslaving countries). 2 million more African deaths attributed to slavery, a system of profit for white people. It’s how America started. It is poison, and the poison has not been eradicated. 

From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States.  Of these people that were lynched 3,446, 72.7% were black. Other people who were lynched included people who smuggled runaway slaves or were caught helping black people. It was a form of execution without trial. Police shootings are also a form of execution without trial. Young black men are 9 times more likely than any other kind of people to be killed by officers.

They have always been killing us. We have to get rid of this poison. We must. It is poisoning all of us.

Part 2.

Here’s how it goes with black men. A young black man looks “dangerous.” He’s standing around. Sitting at a cafe, doing his job, walking down the street, and someone calls the police. The police come, and don’t use their extraordinary skills of disarming dangerous people with guns. They shoot first.

Here’s how it starts: We (white people) start it by labeling a normal situation dangerous. We call in the authorities for no reason. (He looks suspicious. I don’t think he lives in this neighborhood.) Those men laughing and talking on the corner? Hanging out? Why do we call the police on them? At best it’s harassment. At worst it costs people their lives. 

Our family has not had a visit back to the US in the last five years without some sort of interaction with the police. 

One scary moment happened when we visited a friend. We had gone to a nearby park because the friend’s father and brother-in-law were arguing and he felt it would be better if we left them alone. (Our friend and his father are Asian-American. His brother-in-law is white.) After a while, the brother-in-law ran out of the house shouting, “Call 911, he has a gun!” 

Someone did call 911. We walked to the other side of the park to get far away from the house. But when the officers arrived, they spotted Chinua, and charged out of the car toward him, aiming their guns at him, while he held his hands up, despite the fact that we were nowhere near the house. His friend beside him called and gestured to show the house that the gunman actually was in. The kids and I were only a few feet away. There was a two-second pause while the police considered this, and then they changed course and went to the house where the man was. (It turned out to be a pellet gun.)

We were in the wrong place at the wrong time- the incident had nothing to do with us. But why did they run toward Chinua, despite the many, many people standing around in that park? He was the only black man.


Chinua has been pulled over for nothing more than driving an expensive car. (It was the car he was borrowing from a friend while he spent a month with Ian in the hospital, at the end of Ian’s life.)

He has had special services swarm him for exiting his vehicle during a motorcade. 

When he was a boy, he was surrounded by several police cars and told to get down on the ground because he was running down a sidewalk with his brother. 

Part 3. 


I want to learn to listen well.

I have been on my own journey with race. From my youth in Canada, to meeting and falling in love with Chinua, learning about historical racism on a different level, hearing his stories of his mother’s investigations into police brutality in Los Angeles in the 80’s and 90’s, to current day issues. I know that I have listened as though I was listening to a story that has nothing to do with me. I know that I have refused to acknowledge the reality of racism at times, as though my own sheer optimism (that came from growing up believing that people would listen to me and fight for justice for me) could cover everyone around me. Or have not wanted to acknowledge that I have benefited from a system where white people have the most power. And I am slowly starting to see that not having to think about race is a privilege for white people, how race effects nearly everything in our world and political systems for anyone of color, especially black people in America. 

The other day I sat and listened as a couple of white friends kept brushing off what Chinua said about racism. 

Chinua was talking about cultural misunderstanding as a piece of the problem, an fixable piece. “People see black people talking loudly and think that they are angry, when it’s just the way they talk.” 


“There are differences between everyone,” one said shrugging. “There are differences in cultures between the different regions of my country.”


“But we can learn about cultural differences, rather than calling the police,” Chinua responded.


“What, then we have to learn every culture in the world?” (That would be ridiculous, is the implication.)


White friends, we sometimes respond to the reality serious and tragic injustice toward black people in unkind and disempowering ways. Maybe we’ve tried to say that the problem can’t be as bad as they are making it. Maybe we try to act as though the same kind of thing has happened to us. Sometimes we try to show how much better we are than those other white people. “I have a black friend…”

I have done all of those things, not even realizing just how dangerous it is. Because actually what we need to do is stop talking over black people, stop saying it is all the same, stop saying All Lives Matter (everyone already knows this), stop distracting from the conversation about the dangers that black men and women (and children) face. 


Chinua, my kindhearted, right-living husband, has faced these dangers his whole life. As have his family. As have his people. He has skills in how to diffuse a situation, how to not appear threatening, how to assure white people of their worth even while trying to talk about the real race issues of a people who have historically been enslaved and killed, en masse, by white people. 


Clinging to our sense of the world as a right and good place, where people get ahead because of their worth, or fail because they haven’t tried hard enough, makes us bad at listening. But we have to listen.

Part 4.


So let’s listen. Here are some gentle suggestions from someone who has got it wrong many many times. The next time you’re in a conversation about race, and a black person speaks about how hard things are for them, don’t invalidate, brush off, or diminish what they are saying. Just listen, and then say, “I’m sorry. I haven’t heard about that.” Assume there is a lot you don’t know. Learn to be okay with being uncomfortable. (It’s the least we can do for our friends.) Let’s sit uncomfortably with our race (and its history of oppression) without twitching it off by saying “All lives matter,” or “black people enslaved each other too,” or “there’s such a thing as reverse racism.” Let’s not divert the topic to something more comfortable. Let’s admit to not being able to understand what it feels like to know that you are the most targeted type of person in America. We don’t have to understand. We just have to listen and we have to care.


Race is not all we are. Chinua reminds me that there are many ways to slice the pie. I don’t particularly like being in a slice that is away from my entire immediate family and all my in laws, but I am. I can’t pretend away my privilege because I don’t want to be different. It’s dangerous for my family if I keep insisting the difference doesn’t exist. It’s dangerous for my sons, who are in the 99th percentile of height and weight for their age, and about to become large mixed-race (black) men. In one configuration of our family, I am different. I am not in danger in a way that they are. I am the one who gets out and checks for a camping spot at a KOA in Kansas, because I am less likely to be turned away.

I also have great power to be a good listener, friend and ally. We get to decide who we want to be. Do we want to get rid of this poison? One way to keep it around is to keep it hidden, pretend it isn’t there. 

Let’s be okay with being uncomfortable. The last thing I’ll say to my fellow white followers of Jesus is that this is the kind of thing our faith prepares us for. Repentance, discomfort and pain, weeping with those who weep, remaining quiet in order for others to have a chance to speak at the table—these are all earmarks of our faith, and every one of them ends in what we always have, the mercy and grace of God. Our fairytale kingdoms may fall. Our image of ourselves and our countries or heritage as “completely” good may fall. But nothing can separate us from the love of God. It is safe for false constructions to fall. God will remain, and his love and mercy are for all of us.

Here are some resources: 

The current season of Serial. They did some amazing work of spending time and reporting in one courtroom in Cleveland, and what emerges shows how biased things can be in the judicial system.

 The New Jim Crow and The Color of Law explain a lot about the systemization of oppression and segregation in America. (Disclaimer, I haven’t read them. They’re on my list.)

13th, a Netflix documentary about unpaid inmate labor in America.

**Of the 107 shooting sprees that Mother Jones records between 1982 and 2018, 61 were carried out by white people. 17 by black people. (The rest were a mixture of Latino, Asian, Native American, and Unclear.) 

Of those 61 white people, 32 died by suicide. Of those who didn’t shoot themselves, 21 were taken into custody, 8 killed by police. 

Of the 11 black shooters who didn’t kill themselves, 5 were taken in, 6 killed by police. 

(Mother Jones marks shootings that are spree-like, have 3 or more fatalities and often many more injuries.) 

Dear Ian,

Radiant.

Radiant.

It has been two years since you died because of stupid leukemia. And I know you are alive somewhere in some amazing existence, possibly storming through the universe, involved in shenanigans on a cosmic level. But we miss you. 

Christy and the girls came to live in Pai, did you know that? It has been the most beautiful thing, to have them near us. I wish you could see Asha reciting the first 26 numbers of Pi, rattling them off effortlessly. She is a sunny, radiant being, irresistible in smile and nature. And Fiona keeps your face fresh in all of our minds—she looks so much like you. She is deep and creative, passionate and lovely. She has a great sense of humor and loves playing tricks on people. Do you remember how it was hard for a while, when she and Isaac played together as toddlers? He was a year younger but strong and not careful with his strength, and she was a tender flower. I remember we had to keep them apart. Now Fiona says Isaac is her best friend, and they play for hours. She runs around with her long braids flying, chasing and running and leaping around him.

I think you would love the fact that Chinua plays trumpet now. You know how he likes to challenge himself, so he picked one of the hardest instruments and pushes himself every day. He could just choose to stick with instruments he has mastered, but he won’t do that. He played trumpet during a concert last month, and it was beautiful. He misses you. I know he wishes he could have those long talks. I know if you were here you would join the guys on their birding expeditions. You would probably order them all special gear. And find some far off place to plan for, a birding trip like no other. I know you would bring the enthusiasm to another level, a special Ian level. One I have only ever seen mirrored in Asha. 

When Asha visits, she sometimes sits on our steps and says hello to people passing by my house. The people she greets seem delighted to see a red-headed freckled angel talking to them. I often look at her like she is an alien creature. Why would you want to bring more attention to yourself? Now people are talking to you! But she loves it. You would be so proud of her and Fiona. They’re resilient and fierce, kind and joyful. You would be proud of Christy, too— the way she greets her life with openness every day, even on the hard days. She is always pushing for more adventure— going camping at a music festival, heading off to Nepal for visas. Sometimes it amazes me that she is not bitter, but I know she works hard to release feelings of anger and bitterness. She stays hard at that work— she is working to be enveloped in love, to stay close to the heart of Jesus. She blesses everyone she comes close to because of who she is and the generosity of her spirit.

I like to sift through memories of you. Christy and the girls look at your photos and videos, nearly every day. I remember when you came to India, how you and Chinua went on motorbike rides and took photos in banjara camps, playing with flashes and slow shutters. I remember how hard you worked for us to be able to stay in Santa Cruz for three months in 2010. I remember you and Chin going on adventures together, diving or just driving. I remember walking through the Chiang Mai Night Safari together. A staff member let you hold a kinkajou and you fell in love with it. You held Fiona when she was too tired to walk. I remember your open questions to me. “How are you doing? Let’s talk about it.” I can hear your voice asking. Sometimes I imagine what you would say in whatever situation I am in. I imagine you putting your arm around Christy or playing with your beloved girls. I imagine laughter. Lots of laughter.

You are probably having a great time, with no more pain, no more misunderstandings or any of the peculiar foibles of the world we are in here. But we still miss you. We love you, and we’re still mad that you’re gone. 

The veil.

My friend Leaf tagged me in a photography challenge and I couldn't get up, so I took a photo of my wall while lying on the floor. 

My friend Leaf tagged me in a photography challenge and I couldn't get up, so I took a photo of my wall while lying on the floor. 

I'm always surprised by how a bad neck day can change the way I think and feel, even the way I speak. Today was a bad neck day. I have chronic pain from a car accident that happened when Kai was three months old. That's fifteen years ago in December. It was a teardrop fracture and it hurt for a long time, especially because I was supposed to rest but I had a baby to care for, so rest was not possible, at least in terms of not using my arms. And then I went and had another baby right away.

All that is long in the past, but the pain is very much in the present. It's rare to have a day without pain, but some days are worse than others. Bad neck days. If I'm squinting a lot, or moving my head around, or you find me lying on the kitchen floor; chances are it's a bad neck day.

I've been thinking about chronic pain over the last year, more ready to call it as it is. (I think I spent the first fourteen years assuming I would be better in a month or so.) I'm doing more these days (some days) about exercise, massage, and supplements. (Magnesium citrate, and it has to be citrate.)

But mostly I want to enjoy my days and want to learn how to think past pain. Today was rough. I had a Thai lesson and could barely gather my thoughts. I forgot English words too. And I felt like moaning along, rolling instead of walking, not like cooking or being a standing and walking human being. Because on bad neck days, my neck doesn't feel capable of holding my head up, and really that's the least a neck should do. (You had only one job!)

It's less like a little piece of the day, and more like a puked on filter that drops over the world. Kids are more annoying with their fingers tapping on the table (little annoying tappy fingers) or their voices and faces. Food is an issue, rather than a joy. Work is hard because it requires sitting or standing or looking at things.

But I am aware that many people live with pain, or with sickness, and do it well. I want to live well, whether or not I get rid of this completely.

Today I tried being aware of pain and how it was effecting me, noticing it and then moving outside of it and into the rest of the world. So, guiding meditation this morning, I realized how much of my mental space was taken up by my bad neck, then moved out into the bird song I could hear, especially those gorgeous spotted doves cooing on the grass roof. I watered seedlings and thought about how pulling the hose hurt a bit, but how the earth smelled so good. And then on the scooter I thought about how the day felt endless when all I wanted was to crawl back into bed, but how the air was my exact favorite kind of air; full of golden light, cooling at the end of the day, reminding me of poems I have read in other places in the world. 

This evening I made patterns with shape blocks with Isaac, and I asked Chinua to give me a quick massage, and I send Kai for takeout on the street, because the kitchen seemed like too much to handle. And I guess pain can make life less easy, but it can't really take away beauty or love, and it can only take away my sense of humor if I let it, so pain can't win. Even chronic pain. 

What about you? Have you found anything that helps with pain?

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