Mourning with those who mourn…

I almost didn’t write this. I’m a straight, white male. Christian. Educated. I’ve had no crosses burned on my lawn, no hateful names yelled at me as a child by other children who didn’t understand what they were saying, or by adults who definitely did know what they were saying. I don’t feel the fear that many of my friends felt when they woke up this morning – the fear that maybe they are not as welcome in this country that is their home as they thought they were – as they deserve to be.

But tonight I have friends who are mourning – that the America they thought they lived in, that they thought would welcome them, that they thought they belonged to, does not exist in the way that they thought that it would, in the way that they hoped it would. Refugees. Undocumented children, women, and men. LGBTQ friends. Muslims. Latinos. Women and girls. Syrians. Women and men of color. Theirs are the voices you should be listening to tonight. Theirs are the words you should be reading. I merely want to stand by them.

All I can offer is my support. My presence. My love. My love to all of you who mourn. My love to all you who feel shell-shocked. I am with you, and for you… My life – our country – would be the poorer for your absence.

—–

But I can’t stay completely silent. To see friends, family, and strangers – many of whom are Christians – celebrating the election of the same man that is celebrated with such glee by David Duke, by the far-right neo-fascist nationalist parties in Europe, by neo-Nazis and white supremacists and white nationalists in the United States, by the KKK, by Putin, LePen, Farage – it is disturbing, and disheartening, and cause for grief.

—–

I grew up in a village in the Andes mountains with an outhouse. I played with my Quechuan neighbors in the dirt outside our home, speaking a mixture of Quechua and Spanish and the universal language of play: floating sticks down the irrigation ditch, chasing and being chased by the pigs and the sheep. But I had a US passport. I had opportunities that so many of my neighbors lacked. Not because I worked for it, or because I was better than them, or smarter than them. Completely unearned.

And when I graduated high school (I got to go to school, and didn’t have to stop studying in order to put food on the table for my family) I boarded an airplane and flew to another country – the country I was “from,” and had grown up hearing so many wonderful things about.

America. The land where all men and women are created equal. The land of opportunity. A country that was “blessed by God.” The land where freedom of speech and freedom of religion and freedom of the press and freedom of assembly were foundational. The country that said “I might disagree with what you say, but I’ll fight for your right to say it…” The country that stood for something – that welcomed immigrants and those who were willing to work hard – that lived up to the ideals of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…”

But when I arrived, I slowly discovered what many who grew up here and experienced life from the margins already knew – that the ideals often failed to live up to the reality.

I still had hope.

(scratch that…)

I have hope.

(actually, scratch that…)

As Dr. West says, “I am a prisoner of hope.”

It’s hard to maintain hope though, when the children you work with every day – those who have fled violence, hunger, religious persecution, and have come through strong and brave and creative and resilient – when they are demonized and told to “go back to where you came from.” When they are told there isn’t enough for those of us already in the lifeboat, so please move along. “I’m sorry you were born in the wrong place, but that’s your fault. Next time, be born in a better country… or with a better skin color… or to a better religion…”

—–

Am I my brother’s keeper?

Who is my neighbor?

—–

If you accept me, but not the people I grew up with, my neighbors, my co-workers, my friends, the people I love, where does that leave us?

Is the only reason I’m accepted in this country the color of my skin, that I say the right things, that I fit in, that I am a member of the in-group, that I can pass?

Because I can. For a while.

(Until we start to talk about baseball, or any college sports, and then it becomes pretty clear that I am a fraud and an impostor who is not a “real American.” Or until I grow tired of stifling what I really think and feel because I am afraid it will alienate people that I love.)

Dishonesty is a small price to pay for the absence of conflict right?

But only out of honesty comes shalom – peace – wholeness – reconciliation. Only out of telling the truth – the whole, messy, honest truth, can we know each other and be known. Only then can we embrace freedom.

So I am going to try to be honest, and try to tell the truth. I don’t want to be silent.

—–

My love to all of you friends who mourn. My love to all you who feel shell-shocked. I am with you, and for you…

—–

For my friends and family who are Christians – it doesn’t matter who you voted for. But it does matter how you treat others. It does matter if you stand up for those who don’t have the privilege you wield without thinking. Your words matter. Your actions matter.

—–

I heard Trevor Noah last night. He was born in 1984 in South Africa. Mandela was still in prison, apartheid was the law of the land. It was illegal for his parents to be together.

He said:

“You can be dejected. You can be sad. But don’t let it turn in to fear.

Because that’s what Donald Trump used to get his side to do something that they never should have done.”

—–

Perfect love casts out fear.

We mourn.
We rest.
We will rise.
We will walk.

There is much to be done.

Too much?

 

I grew up thinking that there were some things that should be left unsaid.  The truth could be too painful, or scary, or frightening.  We were supposed to tone it down, be nice, say the right thing.

A few years ago I came across Frederick Buechner, and a slim volume he wrote called “Speak what we feel: Not what we ought to say.”

It’s funny how the straw the breaks the camel’s back can be miniscule – a sunset over the ocean, the laugh of a child, four perfect chords, a few words folded into harmony and truth.  And once that straw drops, the walls come crashing down and captives are freed to speak what they feel, to argue and rage, to complain and debate, for this is relationship.  

Thankful tonight that there are people for whom we are not too much.  Thankful tonight that God is not surprised by us, and that even the act of wrestling with God is a way to relate deeper and more truthfully.  

 

You cannot shock Him with the things you want to say.
Let it go. Erupt into glass-shattered expression.
The hurt, regret, sorrow, frustration, bitterness . . . Rage.
Send the fragments of your broken soul showering down.
To the pavement. To the end of things.
Look how it glistens. Reflects light.
Little pieces.
And when you are done, you will feel better.
Let the silence clothe your nakedness.
Feel the breeze, how it swirls into your newly opened soul.
Tender as it caresses a raw, exposed heart.
Listen to the sounds of the sweeping. Broom and dustpan.
The shards being swept away. Splintered remnants and slivers.
Quietly going about His Father’s business.
You’ll be okay. You are loved.
Fiercely.
In a shocking sort of way.

~Heather Eure
via Burnside Writer’s Collective

Searching for a lost voice

A quick perusal of the last few months of the blog shows a couple of things.

First, I noticed that I have written something on here about once a month since I moved out here to Philadelphia.  I’m not entirely sure why…  Part of it may be that I have other outlets to help me with my processing (cough-Abby-cough), and am no longer bouncing ideas around inside my head until I either go crazy and explode or come to some sort of resolution…  Part of it may be that I have been fearful of being honest – fearful of being entirely myself.

After all, if I am just me, I can no longer please everyone.  I can  no longer tailor my words to make myself look good, and please all of my readers.  And even though I’d rather challenge and amuse and make you stop and ask questions, there’s still a part of me that wants you, the reader, to think well of me.  “Please like me…  be my friend…” is the plainative cry of 12 year old Ben, who wore big glasses and hairsprayed his hair and was shy and self-conscious and had to deal with being teased because of his age and uncoordination and the fact that he spoke Spanish and was just different…  sigh…  Don’t believe me?  Just look:

 

This is still how I feel on the inside sometimes – the vulnerable, self-conscious kid who doesn’t really have any friends, and is desperate for someone to like him for who he is, in all his dorkiness and fear.

Second, for some reason I feel as if I’ve lost my voice.  For the almost six years I lived in Rio de Janeiro, I was Ben, the missionary who worked with street kids and lived in the favelas and had amazing adventures every day – profound insightstragic realitiesprophetic truthswacky mishaps…  But take that away from me, and who am I?  What do I have to say that isn’t being said by thousands of others?  I have the tools and know how I want to say things: with truth, insight, humor, and curiosity…  But what is it about what I have to say that will make others even want to read it?

But this brings me back once again to the purpose of this blog…  Why do I blog?  Is it because I am a narcissistic self-centered blow-hard who believes that what he has to say is profound and truth with a capital T?  Is it because I seek validation from you, the readers: – looking for someone to pat me on the head and tell me I’m wonderful?  Or is it because I have to write – because if I don’t, my thoughts congeal and turn to mush, my motivation disappears, and I know that I am not being true to myself – to who God has made me to be?  Or some combination of all of the above?

Third, I am learning what it looks like to have boundaries.  I sometimes vacillate between sharing everything, believing I’m being vulnerable, and clamming up in order to not step on anyone’s toes and overshare.  I find this even more of a frustration when I am navigating a new situation (new friendships, new city, learning what it means to be in a serious relationship, etc.).  I don’t like doing things if I can’t do them well.  And I’ve just recently begun giving myself grace to try new things, to fail miserably, but to learn and grow.  So maybe there’s space for this blog in the process.  Maybe there’s space for it to be just me.  Not a profound voice trumpeting from the rooftops.  Just me – silly, ridiculous, thoughtful, confused, questioning, procrastinating, dizzy, laughing, and honest.  There is some truth in the title of this blog – no matter how much I may want to pretend to be Super-man (or even Mr. Furious, whose power stems from his boundless rage), I am only human…  and that’s OK…