Confessions of a Racist

One of my earliest memories is during my second birthday party, cowering in a small hallway with a handful of two and three year olds because there were black men in cars driving by, drilling semi-automatic bullets into the walls of the apartment buildings.  In the same apartment complex, I remember a little black girl telling me she couldn’t play with me because I was white.  I remember that same little girl’s father standing in my father’s face with a broken beer bottle, threatening his life.

When I was six, one of my first school friends I brought home for a sleepover was a black girl.  She walked through the doors of my house and was pleasantly greeted by my half Chow, half Rottweiler dog Data.  Her response—hysterically screaming.  That whole night my parents had to move Data from inside to outside to outside to inside, depending on where this little girl wanted to play.  After she left the next day, the tension said, “that’s what you get when you invite a black girl into the house.  Black people are afraid of dogs.”  That same black girl became my first bully, calling me names, pulling my hair, and throwing my school supplies out of my arms whenever I would get off the bus.  I learned that people different from you will hurt you, despite your kindness to them.

From age six through about ten, I grew up playing with children whose skin color matched my own.  In fact, I didn’t bring another black person home until I invited a friend from church to my mother’s thanksgiving dinner when I was 26 years old.  In between those 20 years, I continued to hear my dad say, “don’t bring home a black man.”  My mom would tell me that black men were attracted to big white girls because they didn’t have to worry about the controlling and ghetto attitude from me as they would receive from a black woman.

These experiences and words continued to raise the contrasting levels between my skin tone and the skin tone of others around me, manifesting itself in internal judgement and prejudice, as well as overflowing into my speech.  In middle school a black boy continuously kicked me in the side until I fell out of the school bus seat we had to share.  I preceded to gouge my nails into his leg and drag down.  The fact that he bled the same red that I bleed, did not stop me from calling him nigger.  I was taught to believe that nigger was a title earned by a black person.  Not all black people were niggers.  It was title given to the black person who felt entitled to special treatment because of the color of their skin.  To me, that black person was a nigger.

I did not think myself as racist though.  I was progressive and believed the violent acts unjustly committed against a black person just because of their skin color were atrocious. I believed that everyone was deserving of the same fair and just treatment in our country.  I watched movies about our great civil rights leaders and freedom fighters, and I was embarrassed.  Not because I found myself confronted with my own racist tendencies, but because my ancestors had done these horrible acts against the black race.  I believed that the guilt I felt, atoned my predecessors and myself of any hate and wrongful acts that we had done to the black person and would do in the future.

While that guilt sprouted in the dirt of naivety, it continued to be watered and tended by the love and grace of God.  I was not aware of any of this though. My perspective was still selfish and tainted by my glasses that made everything whiter. I believed I would go to Africa someday on a mission trip and make a difference for the black natives. I knew that my future included adopting a little black baby from a poor African orphanage.  I would colonize that baby to my white family and friends, and make his or her life so much better.  I was not racist because, I wanted to learn about the culture of my black counterparts while in school. I would ask questions about their families, food, and speech.  I would ask their opinions concerning civil rights injustices.  I was open to learning, so therefore I was not racist.

I was not racist because no one had ever called me a racist.  At least not yet.  Eventually it did happen though.  It was bound to happen because the truth is always revealed. One summer I worked for a high school education program serving a population of predominately low-economic minorities.  I was so proud of myself, I was overcoming the prejudices of my parents and helping to further the social and educational justices of the black community. My black girls and boys that I tutored were a testament to my progressiveness. At the end of that summer I received my evaluations back from the students. One of them read, “She be racist.” I remember the sick feeling I had in my stomach; my blood boiled in righteous indignation.

It sparked an essay for one my English courses—an essay I title Reverse Racism. I reverted back to my mentality of nigger is a title earned by the entitled black person. This time I was more politically correct. I argued that the expectation from the black youth to automatically receive special treatment from our schools and justice systems was undermining to the very thing that their ancestors fought against in the civil war and civil rights movement. I argued that their ancestors fought for equal rights, not extra rights, so by calling teachers racist because they disciplined them was undoing the civil rights earned. I believed that their ancestors laid out a pathway that allowed them to be able to earn their right to fairness just like everyone else.

Fast forward nearly eight years later, and I’m sitting on the patio of a crowded Memphis coffee shop with a friend. A couple of middle school aged black boys approach us with a basketball tournament flier, asking us for money to sponsor them. My friend and I politely decline.  There is a middle aged white man at the table next to us. The boys approach him and the white man yells at the boys, telling them to “scram” and “shoo” like he was talking to a pair of stray dogs.  The white man stands up and begins to chase them across the lawn and off the property.  The rest of the people on the patio were shocked or confused, some of them praising the white man and others were pretending like they didn’t notice a thing.  My friend begins to wail in compassion for the boys.  Me—I continue to sit there, embarrassed.

I came to Memphis to hear Trevor Noah speak.  I wanted to hear Trevor because I read his memoir Born a Crime and because of the civil unrest our country is currently experiencing.  I’ve watched the news stories about Philando Castile.  I saw the dash cam as he was brutally shot down in his car, in front of his daughter, after doing and saying everything right.  I’ve seen the coverage on other black men unjustly handled and some killed by our police, and how our judicial system has not stood up for their rights. I’ve heard the repetitive hate speech slung around by white supremacists in Charlottesville.  I’m witnessing the continued division of our country under our current administration and the uproar catalyzed by the kneeling of our NFL athletes.  But before that coffee shop in Memphis, I’ve never properly saw racism for what it is—racism is me.  Trevor Noah, told a story during his show about how his mother taught him how to handle racism. She said, “Trevor, you take their hatred and you mix it in with the love of Jesus and then push it back on them.” Trevor said that we can’t give a racist the satisfaction of knowing that they hurt them.  As those boys ran off the lawn, they laughed. At the age of 12, probably even younger, they were already practicing the words that Trevor Noah shared with us.

Me-I continued to sit there, embarrassed. I was embarrassed because my friend was making more of a scene. I was embarrassed because despite how enraged and sick I was by what I had just witnessed, I could not make myself speak out against the injustice.  I was frozen by my own racism.  By the realization that I am a racist.  This is my confession as a racist, and I pray that the Lord continue to stir up his love in my heart, that someday, I too can throw it out to the world with the same amount of compassion and love that my friend did.

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Settled in the Unsettled

I want to say the last few days have been a struggle, but sometimes when I get dark about it, it seems like the struggle has been going strong for a few months or even years.  Friday night I succumbed to an old habit that I have been free of completely for nearly three years.  At first I want to say I don’t know why I fell back into this pit of self-loathing, but that would be a half-truth.  I don’t understand completely why I continue to take steps back, when I have progressed so much in the last few years.

A lot has happened the last year-I ended a year long relationship that was both fulfilling and also sadly codependent at times; I moved twice; I’ve changed jobs; I’ve totaled my car; I’ve changed churches; and, I’m in the process of moving back in with my mother to save money (at age 27).   Not all of that is bad, in fact depending on my viewpoint a lot of it is good.  The relationship taught me both compassion and that I’m capable of making a very difficult decision to not settle.  My new job, while frustrating at times, has also inspired me to live on mission for my clients and encouraged me to make changes to my work place.  I’ve led a bible study, and by doing, have reconnected with old friends and made some wonderful new friends.  And, while the idea of moving back in with my mother at 27 years old seems like a major regression, I see it as an opportunity to make the most out of the closing years that we have left together.

I can see both sides of the coin, but despite the good, I’m struggling with loneliness and depression, which is manifesting itself as lust and greed.  In turn when I fall into those old habits of mine, I perpetuate the cycle of self-loathing and just not being good enough.  I know these feelings and thoughts are lies, but it doesn’t change the fact I’m currently experiencing them.  I’m unsettled, despite my greatest desire to be settled.  I want to make Conway my permanent home.  I want to invest my time, energy, and money in my community, my church, my friends, and my family.  I want to have a home where I don’t have to worry about moving again for at least a few years.  I want to fill that home with kids.  And, if I’m going to be honest I know my biggest desire right now is to do all the above with a life companion—a husband—something that I don’t see in the horizon at all.  I also recognize that in all those desires above, not once do I say that I desire to be God’s.  My intentions line up with his intentions for his people, but my heart right now doesn’t seem to belong to him.

Today a few things were spoke into my heart.  At the first church service, the pastor went through the story of Ruth, asking us to highlight verse 5 in chapter 2, where Boaz asks of Ruth, “Whose young woman is this?”  Whose young woman am I?  Am I the mysterious woman behind the screen of chatrooms?  Am I the woman who had an affair with a married man?  Am I the spoiled goods of whoever may ask me to marry them in the future? Or, am I the redeemed woman of Jesus, who has made me flawless in the eyes of his father?  I know the right answer, but most of the time the other ones are more prominent.

At my mom’s church, the pastor spoke from Numbers 9:15-23 (who would have thought to preach out of Numbers for Mother’s Day).  During this time the Israelites were uprooted from the only home they’ve ever known and being led to an unknown, sounds too good to be true, promised land.  While living in the wilderness, they didn’t know from one day to the next, when they would be directed to get up and follow God closer to their promised inheritance.  They were unsettled.  The pastor said sometimes God prefers us to be unsettled, so that we lean in closer to him and trust in his faithfulness.

Right now, I’m doubting in the woman that God has designed me to be, and I’m doubting in his meticulously laid out plan that is far greater than I could ever dream.  Right now, I just pray that I become settled in the unsettled.

Magnify the Lord with Me

 

pastorjohnsretirement

Only in a Southern Baptist church will you find a pastor holding a hunting rifle as his gift for his service to the church.

“O magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt His name together.” ~Psalm 34:3

Today was such a bittersweet moment to be witness to.  After 32 years of pastoring Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Pastor John Greer has retired.  Since his announcement a couple months ago, personal memories have flooded through my mind.

It was nearly 11 years ago that my parents and I walked through the doors of Pleasant Grove, entering heartbroken and afraid that this church would disappoint us like our last one.  We had literally just been witness to the third split of the church that I had been attending since the first week of moving to Arkansas in 1999; this time we were one of the families that walked out the doors.  Pleasant Grove was recommended to us by our then pastor, so we went the following Sunday, intending on trying a few other churches in town during the weeks to come.  Every Sunday morning though, we woke up and we drove to the corner of Country Club and Prince Street where the small Southern Baptist church of Pleasant Grove sat.  We never could bring ourselves to enter the doors of another church, and eventually transferred our membership to Pleasant Grove.

I was 16 when we joined this church and many major life events and transitions have been shared with the family that resides there, and included in that family is Pastor John Greer who has witnessed mine and my family’s growth in Christ.  Never was I judged for my independence and questions, my mom wasn’t criticized (not too much at least) for her nonconventional use of language, and my dad was never limited to his mental illness when we entered those doors each week.  Pastor John was one of the first people to enter my house after my dad was arrested for domestic threats and violence to my mom and I.  He made sure we were safe and comforted us in our fear and the hard decisions that had to be made later.  He also maintained a relationship with my father despite my parents’ separation; and, when my dad became sick and had to be hospitalized he visited him regularly.  I watched Pastor John mentor my mother over the years, cultivating a desire for learning and humility and hospitality.  And, I will always appreciate the fact that a few years ago I entered Pastor John’s office and told him about my deepest shame, and not once did he ever condemn me for it.  Instead, he taught me the most valuable lesson of my life and faith—faith is not about feelings or emotions, which are fleeting, but faith is about the stable facts that can only be sought and found in the Word of God.

The relationship with this man wasn’t always about him giving to others, though he gave probably much more than he received.  We, as a church shared in his joy of watching his son and daughter-in-law adopt his granddaughter from China, and later watched the same son have an unexpected miracle son and adopting another young girl from the Philippines just a year ago.  We shared in his grief and doubt, as he struggled to understand why his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and we later rejoiced with them when she went in remission.  I watched him as he tired with each sermon, but preserved because it was his responsibility to lead his flock to Christ.

It was through the leadership of Pastor John that I could make one of the hardest decisions to leave Pleasant Grove and join City Church.  I left Pleasant Grove not because I wasn’t getting what I needed or wanted.  I left Pleasant Grove because, I knew my stronghold in faith was not determined by the church that I went to, but by the God that I followed.  It was the reliance on Gospel in Pastor John’s sermons that allowed me to listen to a sermon at City Church and know that they were Gospel driven just as Pastor John and Pleasant Grove were Gospel driven.  The courage that I witnessed through Pastor John each morning as he stood at a pulpit and preached, is the same courage I had as I joined a church that I knew would challenge me and make me uncomfortable at times, but also make my faith and my relationships stronger.

While much of this may seem like flattery and elevation of a mere man, I recognize that Pastor John would never been able to influence my life and the life of so many others, if it wasn’t for the grace of God poured over him, providing him with the wisdom and discipline that it takes to lead a church for 32 years and be in ministry for 46 years.  It is bittersweet that a man of such integrity is retiring from a church that has been a cornerstone in Conway since 1894.  It is through the faithfulness of God in providing a man like Pastor John 32 years ago, that I know that God’s faithfulness to this church and community is and will be present in the coming days.

When I initially started to write this, I wanted to title this “Pray with me,” but after listening to Pastor John’s and Daniel Tyler’s sermons today, that title is not enough.  Yes, please pray with me, asking God to provide Pleasant Grove with the wisdom and graciousness as they move forward in their search for a new pastor; but, don’t just pray with me, also magnify the LORD with me because his plan for Pleasant Grove, this community, and the collective church is far greater then we can ever comprehend.

The Dark (bright) side of the stories

I can’t help but laugh at the thought of sitting in Sunday School or VBS and teaching children the story of Rahab and the spies.  I’m just going to assume that the children’s VBS curriculum does not say, “and the spies entered the house of a prostitute.” Joshua 2:1  (I would not want to be the teacher that sparked that conversation with a five or six year old’s parent).

There are a lot of bible stories that are watered down for children, and understandably so.  For example, Noah and the flood.  A lot of people will use that as a the design for a baby’s nursery.  But, if we were to paint the flood in the true fashion of the story, wouldn’t we have the bodies of dead animals and people floating in the water around the ark?  Or, my personal favorite bible story-Samson and Delilah.  That was the first sermon as a child (around seven) in which I paid some attention.  I obviously wasn’t completely attentive because I totally missed the part where Samson was a greedy, misogynistic jerk most of the time.  All I cared about as a young girl was that Samson was a great and mighty warrior that fought for God and that Delilah was a beautiful woman that caught the eye of this hunk (I don’t know that hunk was part of my vocabulary at this time, but you understand).

I digress from point though…it’s not until we get older, as we start to have more life experience.  When we start to desire that which we cannot or should not have, that we really start to see the harsh reality of many of our favorite bible stories.  I think, especially over the last 10 years, the dark and tragic aspects of the bible have always been there in the back of my mind, scraping at my heart, making me uncomfortable and sometimes even offending me.  Samson and Delilah is still my favorite old testament bible story, but not for the same reasons anymore.  Over the last few years I see my reflection mirrored in both of those characters-angry, lustful, seductress-I could keep on going.

Rahab was a prostitute that housed the spies that eventually assisted in the Israelites capturing Jericho.  She also is the first woman named in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1:5).  Hebrews 11:31 says, “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” We do not have to teach our young children that Rahab was a prostitute because that is not the focus of the story.  The focus is that Rahab had faith in a Great God to save her and her family, and even greater then that is that God wanted to use a broken woman to not just save a emerging people group, but all of humanity.
Maybe when something in the bible offends us, we should ask two things:
What wall is God having us climb down from? How has he used this for his glory and our salvation?

Hard Realities

November 16, 2016

I love how the story of Moses and the edict of death to all male Hebrew babies foreshadows the story of Jesus and a similar edict and the salvation that is to come.  But, I also can’t help but think about all the innocent babies that did die and the grieving parents in the process.  But the quote below also resonates strongly in my heart:

“Isn’t it exquisite to trace the hand of God in history? We praise God for what we can see He has done, but we often struggle to praise Him for what we can’t see while it’s being done.”

He sees me!

November 10, 2016 (Genesis 29:31)

I have a story I have to share with you all.  This morning I had a client come in with her five children.  She was very sweet and all her children very well behaved and respectful.  Her marriage is going through a rough time and there is a lot of unknown and that’s why she was requesting services.  As we were talking she said she saw my bible sitting on top of my printer and wanted to know if I was a believer.  I said I was, and she smiled and said that was wonderful and she was grateful that God gave me as her caseworker. I thanked her and then started talking to her about my devotional I did this morning.

Today I read the story about Rachel, Leah, and Jacob.  How Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, but Rachel and Leah’s father tricked Jacob into marrying Leah (she wasn’t as pretty and the older sister).  Despite Leah feeling unwanted by both her father and her husband, God saw Leah and blessed her through her sons.

It wasn’t until after I said all that to my client, that I actually realized the story was also applicable to her current situation.  My client smirked and said that she too had just studied that story and thought it was awesome that God blessed Leah so much so that he had the Messianic line come from her.

It was such a blessing today to have this woman and her children enter my office.  The last two weeks have been rough for me.  I’ve been sick and have felt underappreciated at work; and, at times I have felt like I haven’t been much of a help to my clients these last two weeks.  This client showed me that God saw me today, not exactly like Leah, but in my own way I was also in need of love and appreciation.

Please praise God with me and pray for my client and her family!

Sodom and Gomorrah

“But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” Genesis 19:26

“Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” Luke 17:32-33

What is my Sodom and Gomorrah?  What do I keep looking back to, turning me into a pillar of salt, useless and dead?