Cakes & Things

If I have learned anything as a budding adult it is that saying “yes” to some things requires a “no” to other things.

Classic example: sleeping in is saying “yes” to rest and “no” to an early morning work-out. It might vary on a different day; we are constantly making choices that fluctuate depending on our environment, our situation, and our needs.

I have found that since starting graduate school in January I have said “yes” to pursuing my dream to be a counselor and “no” to lots of other things – extra time with friends, more time write, and the ability to read books for fun. However, I would choose this “yes” a thousand times over so truly, no regrets.

One of the other sacrifices I have had to make is my deep immersion in the plethora of podcasts I listen to (CPR, The Liturgists, TED Radio Hour, Fresh Air, and Queer Theology). This means that I do not always have the most up-to-date news insights or analysis of current events. I am trying to keep up, but in full honesty, it is hard.

And so, the only reason I heard about the Supreme Court ruling on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is because my news ticker on my computer alerted me right away – somehow, awhile back, I set a reminder to send me the ruling when it was released. And low and behold, it was decided this past week.

As I read the decision and court brief I was shocked. However, undeterred, I read more.

The case, was actually quite complex in the process to reach the Supreme Court, proposed two sides: the right to create (or not) “art” that is line with a person’s beliefs and the right for a person to not be discriminated in a public space (business).

Ultimately, the decision of the court was with Jack Phillips (Masterpiece Cakeshop) because of the hostility he faced from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (which certainly failed to remain impartial during the proceedings and ruling process.

However, even in the majority opinion, the rights and protections of LGBTQ+ were affirmed. I wondered, could this still be an advancement for the LGBTQ+ community?

Justice Kennedy, in releasing the majority opinion wrote, “Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth. For that reason the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the exercise of their civil rights. The decision clearly states that it is a general rule that religious and philosophical objections “do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services.”

While the case failed to be a “win” in the traditional sense for the plaintiffs, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, there are undercurrents in the decision that I hope will bode well for anti-discrimination cases in the future (I am sure there will be many, many more).

After reading (and reading some more) about the case, I spent some time reflecting and honestly found myself slightly lethargic. Though the case may actually fuel protections for LGBTQ+ people, I feel a bit weary in trying to remind people that really, people are just people. It would be nice if we could all treat each other with basic decency. We do not have to agree. Not even a little.

I keep hoping that we can arrive at a place that acknowledges (no matter what you think or what politics that you hold) the humanity central to all of us.

We are all just people. I get that we have beliefs. We have ways of seeing the world. We have ideologies. But my goodness, if we continue to bicker about who we can (or cannot) sell cake too, I’m worried about how we can move forward in other dialogues and other forms of living together.

I guess this is a bit idealistic, eh?

I am no law expert, but I do rest on the fact that I would rather spread more love than not.

I would rather welcome more people than not.

I would rather say “yes” than not.

You can still hold your beliefs and decide to acknowledge the humanity in another human being. I promise, it is not impossible. What’s the worst that could happen?

When you have experienced exclusion, you know the pain and you know the hurt of being outside of belonging. Inclusivity, I think, propels us forward far faster than exclusivity. For this reason, and more, whatever and wherever I end up, I will press for the inclusion of everyone. This is the work of social justice.

a new kind of church

Edith Windsor, 88, passed away last week and honestly, my heart broke a little.

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Edith Windsor.

Born in 1929 in Philadelphia, amidst the tumbleweeds, dirt, and turbulence of the Great Depression, she entered her young teenage years in the midst of World War II, and then “came of age” in the 1950’s and 60’s when the United States was thick in the Civil Rights Movement.

From the very beginning, her existence lived and breathed history. She was whip smart, too, having earned a Master’s Degree from NYU in Mathematics and worked at IBM, eventually becoming a computer programmer.

Edith Windsor was (and is) an icon in the LGBT+ community; she was the lead plaintiff in the landmark case United States vs. Windsor that ultimately overturned section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) (defining the term “spouse” as only applied for marriages between a man and a woman), a landmark victory for the same-sex marriage movement in the United States.

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Edith, following the ruling in United States vs. Windsor

Windsor’s journey started in 2009 when her spouse, Thea Spyer, died of complications from multiple sclerosis. Because they had married in Canada, the marriage was not recognized in the United States because of DOMA. Ultimately, she was forced to pay an excruciating amount of estate taxes, and knowing this was unfair and inequitable, she filed suit. Because of this case, beginning in 2015, the highest court in the land granted gays and lesbians the right to marry the people they love. Rainbow flags flooded the streets everywhere across our nation; again, our Constitution found a way to deliver on the promise that we set forth so long ago: all (men) are created equal.

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Photo Courtesy of John Pavlovitz Blog.

Edith’s legacy is etched in stone and it will not soon be forgotten. At her eulogy, the Rabbi Amy B. Ehrilch noted, “…Her legacy is one of love, and the right we now have to marry the people we love…to have love as your legacy in life, and in law, is an everlasting blessing.”

Not knowing the nature of her last days, I cannot be sure if she knew of The Nashville Statement or any of the subsequent releases of mass statements for (or against) members of the LGBT+ community. If she had, I am sure it left her saddened and confused.

When The Nashville Statement was initially released, concurrent with Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, the first thought I had was: why now? What’s the point? I mean, hello, we have a city nearly underwater and instead of using our energies to support them by whatever means possible, we think it is necessary to draw the line between us and them? Really?

That was even before I read the statement.

In a week of fragility, I avoided reading what I was told was a document of ignorance, judgement, and division. Curiosity won me over, as it usually does, and I found myself reading this particular Evangelical Christian Statement of Faith or “manifesto” sponsored by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Word after word, in the 14 statements put forth (with each statement including both an affirmation and denial), it was as though a large line was drawn between “right” and “wrong” and unquestionably, I was left to think I was wrong simply because of who I am.

Article 7, for example declares, “We DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”

 

Article 8, continues, “We AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful lie pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life. We DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.”

 These statements, peppered with fancy language might sound kind to some, but let me tell you, these words aren’t “kind.” These words are telling me – and others – that our understanding of self (and identity) is not supported by God. That’s heartbreaking. Plain and simple. Additionally, I have major issues with the signers of this document choosing sexual orientation and sexual identity, above many other things (think: war, death, violence, hate) as the main markers of “ruin.” Of all the things.

Woefully, what I think is forgotten when mass paragraphs of rhetoric are released is the fact that when we are talking about this, we are talking about people. You know, human beings. The Nashville Statement defaces the humanity of the “issue” and, at least in me, pressed and prodded a trigger of doubt of who I was and the wondering if God could really love me. Revisiting this shadow of doubt every so often is tremendously painful. I spent years in this space, and when it lurks and creeps back into my life, it takes every ounce of faith to scream and shout, “No!”

Which is why I was immensely relieved, in light of The Nashville Statement, that there were a handful of other statements – largely from church leaders from around the country – that stood in defense and in love for LGBT+ people. As I read through the Christians United Statement, I saw my pastor’s name at the bottom of the document with hundreds of others.

Michael Hidalgo, Denver Community Church.

Exhaling more deeply than I had all day, I let the tears of relief come to my eyes.

We’re not alone, I thought.

I felt a lot of things, but the most important one was gratitude. Beyond any doubt, I am grateful that I am a part of an inclusive, welcoming, and loving community. I am grateful that the faith community I choose to take part in prioritizes unity over uniformity. Denver Community Church (DCC), though an inclusive church, does not maintain a church body where everyone thinks the same thing on LGBT+ related issues. However, as church body, they stand in defense of us, believing that everyone has a right to be loved – namely, a right to take part in the aged tradition of pursuing a God that created us, loves us, and chooses us (all of us). In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined a faith community quite like this. Loving Jesus in this way, in this lens, allows me to know him better, to know myself better, and to know others better, too.

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Denver Community Church, Uptown.

I came out (officially) in 2016, one year after DOMA “was dead” and same-sex marriage became legal. This is important because “coming out” is different than it was 20 years ago; hell, it’s different than it was 200 years ago. Culturally, we’ve come a long way, and it is common to find many who acknowledge the level of safety and acceptance that exists in the fabric of our society.

I am a beneficiary of this. I inherited this. I got damn lucky.

With these ever-pressing cultural shifts, there is an opportunity for a new narrative for the church, and for LGBT+ people. This is not a case of the church adopting the mainstream culture, instead, I think it is actually a chance for the church to pursue love – whatever the cost. When Jesus tells us to follow him, to really follow him – and leave everything behind – I think that is what he’s talking about. It’s not just about our things – it’s about our assumptions, our preconceived notions, even our own ideologies. When we surrender these for a chance to love (and learn more about the people around us) crazy, crazy (good) things can happen.

Traditionally and historically, church communities have stood as pillars of “righteousness” and have rejected the idea that people could (and would) be gay.

That’s putting it lightly; gay people have been pushed to conversion therapies; gay people have been embarrassed and abused, and perhaps most frequently, their attendance has not been welcomed. The church, if anything, should be home to those who are rejected. Why on earth, have we tolerated, allowed, and permitted (implicitly or not) the church to be the rejecter?

What if churches – and perhaps, all faith communities for that matter – recognized that humanity is most beautiful because of its diversity. Because of its colors, ethnicities, genders, and orientations.

At DCC recently, Pastor Hidalgo pointed out a perspective on Genesis that he had studied from a Jewish Rabbi. This Rabbi presented a unique lens to view what God was creating in Genesis and at the time of creation; in verses 11-25, the first chapter of the Bible details the type or kinds of vegetation, light, and creatures that were being made. But, when it came to humans, in verses 26-28, there was not the same, parallel language of categories. Simply, there was, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them…” This is about humanity and the vastness by which God has created us.

Now, more than ever, churches have a chance to re-write oppression and judgements of the past; we can be reconciling communities; we can open our doors; we can change.

Changing the narrative from rejection to welcoming requires commitment, time, and resilience. There are a lot of stakes; money, leadership, opinions, and ideologies. People will disagree. People might even leave. However, the formation of the church was just like this: progressive, radical, and hinged upon what? Love. Tell me Jesus wouldn’t say the same thing.

What if the church reclaimed the story?

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There is so much room for reconciliation that I can hardly wait to see what the rest of my years bring. Maybe it will be at DCC, or maybe it will be elsewhere, but I intend the rest of my life to seek these sacred spaces: the ones where both Christianity and inclusivity can thrive. It’s here, I think, where we’ll know a deeper part of Jesus.

We can move the needle toward love and it is this pursuit that is what life is really about.

What Our Bumper Stickers Say About Us

Since the Spring of 2016, I have driven my Subaru Legacy around with a royal blue and yellow Human Rights Campaign (HRC) sticker on the right-hand side of the trunk, just above the bumper.

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The HRC logo, depicting equality for all, was released in 1995 by the HRC, designed by Stone Yamashita.

I got the decal during Denver Pridefest and knew, immediately, that I wanted to put it on the back of my car. For some reason, it felt easier to put the sticker on the rear of my car first, and then, subsequently, tell my family and friends that not only did I support marriage equality, but that I too was gay. When I decided that this was the marker I wanted to put on my car – for all to see – I thought it would be best to do so with a handful of other stickers, too: the Rwandan flag, a Peace Corps logo, and a simple cross.

 

Aha, I thought.

Now people would be really confused, wondering, who is this person driving around with progressive Christian flag-focused stickers? Exactly. Like a declaration of identity, I wanted to spread the word that we could be all kinds of different things, all at once.

But, again, what was so compelling about presenting my identity through the medium of a vehicle? Couldn’t I have been happy enough with having conversations about these sorts of things? Why did I feel it necessary to stick adhesive on my trunk in order to say, “Hey! Look at me! This is what I stand for!”

I suppose a great deal of this drive is to identify or stand with something. Perhaps, subconsciously we can feel “in” when someone else sees the stickers and acknowledges that we are a certain kind of person. We feel validated, like our stickers subscribe us to a larger set of values or pillars. Unspoken, of course, as most of the time cars that are around us, speed down roads and highways, interchanging lanes, paying no attention to us anyway.

Bumper stickers aren’t all that old in the broader view of things; bumper stickers weren’t really a “thing” until after World War II. In an upgrade from “bumper signs” that were made from paper and string, Forest Gill was able to invent a new kind of adhesive combination that made for an actual bumper sticker. In the years following, these became incredibly popular for campaigning. By 1968, 20 million stickers were printed from the presidential campaign for Alabama Governor George Wallace, the famous segregationist. They were a big deal. Now, many historians and manufacturers alike believe they are on the decline, with political campaigns focusing more on the televised process, rather than the rally-like “hurrah” days.

More screen time equals less bumper stickers.

In some ways, however, they’re still booming around the city, especially Denver, with political affiliations (be it Obama or Trump), and also, things that are declarative like, “University of Colorado Mom”, “Proud Parent of an Honor Roll Student” or wishful thinking like “Coexist” or “Peace Not War.” There’s some a bit more on the defensive side, like, “9/11 was in Inside Job” or “Fear the Government that Fears your Guns” or “Put the Cellphone Down and Concentrate on Being a Shitty Driver.”

Really. I’ve seen it all.

Then, I know many people who claim that they would never and I mean, never, put a bumper sticker on their car. Maybe their water bottle. Maybe. Millennials certainly enjoy putting them on the back of their computer, so that’s always an option as well.

But for the resistant, what’s the hold up? Perhaps, in ways, it feels crass to declare our ideas or belonging simply with a paper stuck on our car. Isn’t that the function of social media these days? Isn’t Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest enough?

Also, it takes a long time to get bumper stickers off cars. I should know. Just this last week I removed two of my bumper stickers out of the feeling of wanting a clean slate. I was tired of having a trunk-full of stickers, and so, I decided to leave only two. But that is the thing: it took at least 45 minutes to remove them both. Is it really worth it? It’s kind of a funny store, too: driving through rural Kansas, Chelsea and I stopped for gas at a Shell station. As the gas poured into my tank, I took a ice pick and furiously began scraping the stickers off my car. Of course, in this moment, I was removing the cross, which I am sure, looked just fabulous in the middle of nowhere. I’m sure bystanders were wondering about what kind of heathen I was. Oops.

Moreover, bumper stickers, at least from my travels, are curiously a phenomenon in the United States. We love being a place of free speech, so hey, why not use one of the many canvasses we have. Additionally, we likely spend more time in our cars than anyone else, so why not decorate as we wish. There’s one problem that I’m noticing, though, and it’s one of the reasons I don’t want the back of my car loaded with stickers, especially of the political kind.

Bumper stickers – more commonly the political ones – create visceral reactions in the people around us. Okay, so maybe it’s just me, but if I see a sticker that rubs me the wrong way, immediately, I build up improper, incorrect, uninformed, and rude ideologies about the person behind the wheel. Let’s be clear: I don’t even know this person. So, perhaps, less of a problem than the bumper sticker itself is our reaction to it. As an already dangerously divided nation, we keep marking territories of “us” vs “them” faster than we can do anything else. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone, and yet, if I have to be honest, I would say that I’m really tired of everything being so divisive. I’m tired of hate. I’m tired of disunity. I’m tired of rancor. I’m ready for something a little deeper, and a lot more sustainable.

I’m not asking that everyone puts “love” stickers on the back of their cars. I’m also not suggesting that no one should have bumper stickers at all. I’m just noticing that they are there, and so are we, and that we can’t help ourselves to reacting. We think these stickers are saying something about us, but it’s possible, even likely, that the stickers are saying more about the drivers around, and how we’re reacting to all of them. I’m keeping my HRC sticker on my car. I’ll hold on to my Peace Corps one, too. These come from points of pride, honestly, and I like the way they look against the sky-blue color of my car. Sure, I could put the logo of the party that I voted for, or some smart-ass comment about our President, but right now, the most important thing to do is to find the right forum. Create discussion. Encourage conversation.

We don’t have to be defined by the labels – or stickers – we put around us.

We can always be more, always learning, always striving for what’s beyond the boundaries we create. This doesn’t mean agreeing in a kumbaya circle. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of hate to overcome, and a lot of healing to pursue. So, let’s find meaningful action, not assuming that a bumper sticker or a Facebook post or an Instagram picture is going to move the needle.

We need to read, to listen, to move. We need to become informed citizens, ready to articulate what is happening around us. We need to understand our history and what’s come before us. We need a lot of things, but divisiveness is not one.

I love a funny, good bumper sticker. Just next time you put one up, think about what you are putting out into the road, and therefore, the world.

You really just don’t know, until you think about it.

Drive Safe – and enjoy the view.

street signs.

Summer seasons are often full of long, lazy days in the parks, taking in the sun, and the people, with friends. I love these days; they are full, but they are restful. Another part of summer, at least twice in the last two years, has been moving and changing locations.

Last year, I moved from the outer suburbs of Denver into prime real estate: Washington Park. I packed my bags and hunkered down in a 1-bedroom, sharing the house with three other young female professionals. It was exactly what I needed at the time – urban living, a fun neighborhood, and a bit more walkability to the places around me. I was close to Pearl Street and DU, so there were always exciting things happening.

Of course, in the last year, a lot has changed. And with those changes, I took another dive into a big move this summer, moving in with Chelsea. We had discussed it at length, even from the beginning of our relationship, understanding that things were, in fact, serious. We decided that as our leases eased closer to finishing (both ending on the exact same day) we would evaluate if living together was the next best thing.

And, in the end, it was. Living together isn’t a decision to be taken lightly; a lot can change, and more responsibility looms – to the relationship, and for your partner. However, I wouldn’t move in with just anyone; and knowing that Chelsea and I are a forever-kind-of-thing made this decision quite easy.

Let’s do it, we said.

We relocated to East-Central Denver, on the edge Hilltop, in the budding neighborhood of Lowry. Lowry, or Lowry Field as the neighborhood is also called, is on the site of the former Lowry Air Force Base. The Air Force Base trained military members, of all branches, for 57 total years, with a focus being air and space technology in the late 1950s. Interestingly, during this time, Dwight D. Eisenhower kept his summer home in Denver, in Lowry, with frequent stops on his plane, “the Columbine” on the base. The base closed in 1994 after it graduated 1.1 million Armed Forces. Since then, the city has initiated redevelopment efforts for the community, creating a space that is mixed-use, mixed-age, and mixed-race. Better yet, it’s home to over 800 parks and open space – about 20% of all Denver park acreage in Denver!

Our home is spacious and comfortable, with a gym on the first floor of the apartment (lifting weights just got easier). Most mornings, I write or read on our large patio, listening to the humming of the water foundation below. We’ve scoped out the nearby ice cream parlors, Rocket and High Point Creamery, and we’re game for walks at the park nearby, Crestmoor.

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Most of my life in Denver has been spent on the Southside (do people even say that here? Maybe?) so it is nice to mix it up, and enter a new community. Ironic, because now, we’re only blocks away from the first home I ever lived in – my parents’ home on Poplar, not far from Fairmount Cemetery. Life’s wonderfully ironic sometimes.

My favorite part of living together has been sharing meals, coming home to someone, and having easy access to my rollerblading buddy on the weekends. There’s a lot of small reasons why living together is great, but mostly, it’s just nice to share life with someone.

My drive to work from our new place is relatively straightforward; I head north on Monaco and then due west on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The drive is both tranquil and picturesque, lined with large, old, overhanging oak trees in the median and outer edges of the traffic lanes. Historic homes are everywhere in this part of town, complete with old bricks and ominous, circular pillars.

However, as I’ve adjusted to my commute, I have started noticing more and more of what’s around me. What I’ve seen, a lot more than what I used to see in the Washington Park community, is the prevalence of homelessness.

As I get closer to Northeast Park Hill (which has a median income of $37,468.06, as opposed to the median income of $88,479 in South Park Hill), I traverse through different socio-economic classes and a variance of make-ups in Denver’s community.

Intentionally, I started reading and keeping note of the some of the signs I would pass on these short drives. Some said:

“Family in need.”

“Veteran & hungry.”

“Anything helps.”

These are street signs of course, but it made me wonder, why do people write what they do on a sign that can fit 10 words – max? More than that, though, I’ve been contemplating what is happening in Denver’s migration (in and out) and how it’s affecting people who have lived here a very long time.

Just the other morning, I passed these same streets and saw a woman with a walker standing on the curb, again, with a sign. How did this happen? What brought her to this place? I felt not pity, but a helplessness that I have not felt for quite some time. I didn’t know what to say, and more obviously, I didn’t know where to look. It hurts, sometimes, to look someone with that kind of pain in the eyes. It’s important, though, I think to regard someone’s humanity in the moment. So, I looked, and the light turned green, and I drove by.

Another morning, another day.

Denver is not what it used to be. Old neighborhoods are gentrified; gangs are becoming pushed to smaller parts of historic neighborhoods and we are left with something of a huge problem. This city can only fit so much.

What will happen with the people on the margins?

I have found a new home, but I can’t help but wonder and ask what will happen with others. I see these street signs popping up and I don’t know what to do. The signs point to something larger, and perhaps, like old prophecy, we are left to decipher and await new meaning for what’s happening to our city, and hence, what’s happening to our people.

We assume people on the side of the road are after drugs or haven’t tried a shelter. That could be true, but I am left with a stronger sense of I don’t know. I don’t know what their stories are. We, if we are to be honest, don’t know as much as we think we do.

Our city is changing, and changing fast. The average rent, for a one-bedroom is $1,413, monthly[1]. There are a lot of reasons to come here, to be sure, but I hope that the swiftly changing demographics of our city doesn’t to continue to harm only certain groups of people.

I’m a beneficiary of these changes, I can afford rent here – at least for now.

However, it’s still difficult to see individuals (and families), stuck in the middle of somewhere in between, unable to make ends meet. Moving has opened my eyes up to this, and I will continue to keep my eyes open, waiting, watching, and looking for a way to find the answer for what we do amid all these tensions.

[1] https://www.rentjungle.com/average-rent-in-denver-rent-trends/

Woman, Why Are You Crying?

“Woman, why are you crying?”

Mary Magdalene, outside the empty tomb of Jesus, in the Gospel of John, faces this question twice, in the midst of her visible, open process of lamentation and despair. The first time, she answers to two angels, seated where His body had been.

They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.

The second time, she answers to Jesus Himself – unknowingly. Thinking the inquirer is actually a gardener she replies, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.

Jesus, in the flesh, softly says to her, “Mary.”

Instantly, she understands it is Him. Jesus. He calls her, gently and tenderly. And she knows, in the depths of her soul, without a doubt, that she is not alone anymore.

Redemption has been made possible.

*

This week has felt like one large, collective grieving process. Our grief isn’t about “my team” losing an election. This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. Nor is this a pity party for not getting what I want.

Friends, this is about the flagrant, blatant, no longer concealable brokenness of the world.

Hate, fear, separation, division, isolation, racism, poverty, anger, misogyny.

Injustices that Jesus warned of are currently and actively alive, celebrated, and promoted. With every fiber of my being, this breaks my heart. I recognize that many individuals don’t believe in the rhetoric, act, or spread of hate. But, given the circumstances of our society, we must ask ourselves, with raw, vulnerable transparency, “what are we actually doing about it?”

Friends, what do our lives stand for?

Leaders should reflect the values, vision, and hopes that we carry. It felt, in the deep corners of my heart, that the selection of a man that campaigned on exclusion, judgement, and malice affirmed this kind of approach to leadership.

Tears fell.

They continue to fall, like Mary, because though I know redemption is possible, there is murky water to sort through first.

First and foremost, we must process and recognize our own ignorance, privilege, and perpetuation. How can we advocate for our brothers and sisters without considering our own existing fortune, predispositions, and assumptions?

Then, we must actively engage. Participate. Be willing to be uncomfortable. Not shy away from the beckoning challenges of brokenness. It’s easy to hide in our bedrooms, busy schedules, or commitments. It’s tempting to fill days with echo chambers, simply living a comfortable life because we can. But, in doing so, we miss an invitation to grow, to change, and to speak out for what is right.

As we begin conversations, we must enter with peace. With compassion. This could be the hardest murky water to dive into and swim within. Compassion requires a willingness to see from a perspective of another. Willingly, we remove our own blind spots in exchange for empathy. This is what makes real love so damn radical.

As this repetitive, painful process of pursuing social justice occurs, I think – I hope – this kind of courage will lead us to deeper healing and optimism and also, justice. Real, living justice. The kind, I think, that Mary is crying for when she is searching for Jesus.

Needing a burst of sunshine and energy in my heart, I called a former of student of mine, Zahara, on this slow Sunday morning. As I sipped my lukewarm coffee in a bold-red adirondack chair, she told me of her recent success in school and how she would soon be starting student-teaching with a group of nursery students in a small, rural Rwandan community. For the sixth-straight day, I cried, because she is living proof that when justice occurs in the practical lives of our people, the joy is unescapable, the transformation indescribable.

Zahara also spoke of a current famine taking hold in the Eastern part of the country. Her mother,  a subsistence farmer, is having difficulty finding food. The seeds have been planted, but it’s not clear when they will grow and harvest can take place. Her words echoed exactly, I believe, what our country faces in the aftermath of our political process. She said, “It is difficult to see the food. We are trying. We are cultivating something.”

We are cultivating something. But, what will it be?

Innumerable phone calls, text messages, hugs, emails, and conversations filled my week, and for that, I have reason to hope that we are not alone. I also made a list in my journal called “We Are Going to Be Okay” with ways in which I can see God moving and promising something better than this pool of hate that has been accepted. My list included snippets of moments with refugee women throughout the week, meals shared with loved ones, and the beauty of the trees all around us. For those that reached out this week, I say thank you. Thank you for your love, your resilience, and your grounding pursuit of standing together, even in times of uncertainty. 

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Lastly, in just another example of the hope we can hold onto, I heard a small portion of Maya Angelou’s inaugural poem for Bill Clinton in 1993. Later, I read the entire text (see below), and realized that her word were my prayer. And so, I share it in earnest, hoping that you too, even in tears, will continue to believe in us.

I’m sad. I’m broken. I’m concerned. But, I am not done. This, well, this is only the beginning. May love be our sword, may hope be our compass. Let’s do this.

A Rock, A River, A Tree Hosts to species long since departed, Marked the mastodon, The dinosaur, who left dried tokens Of their sojourn here On our planet floor, Any broad alarm of their hastening doom Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages. But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully, Come, you may stand upon my Back and face your distant destiny, But seek no haven in my shadow. I will give you no hiding place down here. You, created only a little lower than The angels, have crouched too long in The bruising darkness Have lain too long Face down in ignorance. Your mouths spilling words Armed for slaughter. The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me, But do not hide your face. Across the wall of the world, A River sings a beautiful song, Come, rest here by my side. Each of you, a bordered country, Delicate and strangely made proud, Yet thrusting perpetually under siege. Your armed struggles for profit Have left collars of waste upon My shore, currents of debris upon my breast. Yet today I call you to my riverside, If you will study war no more. Come, Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs The Creator gave to me when I and the Tree and the rock were one. Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your Brow and when you yet knew you still Knew nothing. The River sang and sings on. There is a true yearning to respond to The singing River and the wise Rock. So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew The African, the Native American, the Sioux, The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh, The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher, The Privileged, the Homeless, the Teacher. They hear. They all hear The speaking of the Tree. Today, the first and last of every Tree Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River. Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River. Each of you, descendant of some passed On traveller, has been paid for. You, who gave me my first name, you, Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then Forced on bloody feet, Left me to the employment of Other seekers — desperate for gain, Starving for gold. You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot, You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought, Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare Praying for a dream. Here, root yourselves beside me. I am that Tree planted by the River, Which will not be moved. I, the Rock, I, the River, I, the Tree I am yours — your passages have been paid. Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need For this bright morning dawning for you. History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, but if faced With courage, need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes upon The day breaking for you. Give birth again To the dream. Women, children, men, Take it into the palms of your hands, Mold it into the shape of your most Private need. Sculpt it into The image of your most public self. Lift up your hearts Each new hour holds new chances For new beginnings. Do not be wedded forever To fear, yoked eternally To brutishness. The horizon leans forward, Offering you space to place new steps of change. Here, on the pulse of this fine day You may have the courage To look up and out and upon me, the Rock, the River, the Tree, your country. No less to Midas than the mendicant. No less to you now than the mastodon then. Here, on the pulse of this new day You may have the grace to look up and out And into your sister’s eyes, into Your brother’s face, your country And say simply Very simply With hope Good morning. – Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning” 

the urban-rural divide.

Yet you Lord, are our Father. We are the clay; you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8

My imagination has frequently run wild as I’ve imagined God’s hand shaping all of us, like a potter perfecting their craft.

I say “all” because without a doubt in my mind, we are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The pads of His fingers shape us, smooth us, even as muddy clay gets underneath His fingernails. We are formed, created, unlike anyone that has ever come before or will come after us.

For years, I think, this has given me a hidden joy as I have met and made friends with all kinds of people.

I think to myself, “what can this person teach me?” or more directly, “how did God make this person unique?” These questions have made me a bit gentler, a bit softer even, when a person annoys the hell out of me. Let’s be real, we’re human.

With the same, intense curiosity though, I’ve often also thought about the formation we experience through the lives we live. This references the old “nature vs. nurture” debate in some ways; to what extent are we formed by biology and also by the experiences we have as we age? We are born with a set of circumstances, and our lives ebb and flow differently, based on the culture we are surrounded by.

Culture is a large word – and there is a big chunk of it that is invisible to the human eye. About a year ago, I stumbled upon this chart that outlines the construction of our culture through the lense and degree of visibility.

Foundations of Culture

 

Genuinely, I think this could be a transformative tool in entering conversations this year – particularly in light of political strife, tension, and emotion.I happened to review this chart a couple of weeks ago as I was creating curriculum to use with refugee and immigrant populations in Denver. It also so happens, a week later, that I traveled to middle rural America – seemingly another country, far from my safe haven in Colorado.

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For the first time this year, I saw “Trump” and “Make America Great Again” signs and I got a bit nervous. On the back of my car, I have a couple key bumper stickers, namely one from the Human Rights Campaign and the US Peace Corps. As I sped through vast grasslands and corn fields, I held the steering wheel tightly and thought, “oh gosh, they’re gonna think I’m some hippie.”

I was traveling to Oklahoma to visit my grandparents and honestly, it was a nice, lovely escape from the city. It also, metaphorically speaking, woke me up. 

As I settled into this small pan-handle community for a week, I took lots of walks thinking about what it would be like to live life here (or in any other rural community in the United States).

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I began to consider the urban-rural divide. Lately, we’ve hyper-focused on the racial, economic, or political divide in the United States, but I would also argue that the urban-rural split is the root of these other fractured conversations and movements in our country. Frankly, living in an urban or rural area can be like living in another country altogether.

The American Communities Project has put together a map that illustrates the divisions of our country and alludes to the potential impact this has on education, age, and opportunities available to different populations.

I took a screenshot so you can get a sense of what they have tried to capture – communities ranging from “Aging Farmlands” to “Graying America” to “Evangelical Hubs.”

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Let’s consider the urban and rural divisions.

In the marked urban areas there are 153 counties with 140 million people.

In the designated rural areas there are 936 counties with 30 million people.

Y’all, that’s a difference of 110 million people!

And that’s not all.

Completion of higher-level education (say, a Bachelor’s degree) is at 35% in the suburbs; 32% in big cities; 20% in rural America; and finally, less than 15% in “working class country. (citation was found via a story by “Meet the Press”)

This results in a proverbial ceiling for higher-paying jobs, resulting in less investment by both the public and private sectors. Essentially, what happens, is that because of a lack in education completion and job creation, economic growth is stunted. Communities are slowly, but surely, dying. And, because they might be underrepresented and also less exposed to other parts of the country (and world), these populations are relatively isolated. This happens in Rwanda too – this definitely, is not just an American problem.

To be sure, this is not my world. It’s the opposite, actually. I live in Denver – perhaps the fastest growing city in the U.S.A. right now. I also went to one of Colorado’s best school districts as I grew up, could attend any college I wanted, and because of the high-attention to critical thinking emphasized by my small, liberal-arts college, I was able to explore and consider issues in the world that others may not have the opportunity to do.

I’m not better, I’m privileged. And there is a difference. Sometimes, it might take some time away from your own boundaries to understand this a bit more fully.

I have really struggled to understand the anger that some Americans feel right now, namely in their preference for Trump in this circus of a 2016 election. It seems many individuals and communities feel slighted in some way; namely in the relation to the economic circumstances of their lives – and honestly, I don’t blame them. So, in turn, this anger is funneled into the hope that a political giant (read: Trump) can “save” them. As I walked, drove, and spent time away from the confines of my American country (ahem, Denver), I can see how people might think differently than me. Look at the cultural chart again: the deepest parts of our formation come from where we live, what we do, and the development of our perspective of the world. And so, perhaps my push for civil rights and human dignity doesn’t strike a chord with other populations because they have been busy trying to figure out how to make ends meet.

It’s not an issue of being more “enlightened” than other people either– it’s just recognizing the opportunity (and yes, privilege you’ve had in your life). Perhaps, we should all step back, and take time to consider the kinds of privilege we carry around with us. We don’t have to always feel guilty, but we do have to be aware.

Because awareness, at its best, should propel us to action. Action means trying to understand each other and developing initiatives, policy, and movements that benefit Americans. All of us. Each and everyone. Not that top 1%. Not the middle class. Not the poor. Everybody, y’all.

I’m privileged in my skin color, in my education levels, in my economic status, in my job, in the family system I have always had, and in my place of birth.

However, because of other areas, like gender, or orientation, I have been slighted or under-represented.

We all have these dichotomies; areas of both privilege and lack thereof.

I’m not saying I agree with the rhetoric of a particular political candidate. What I’m saying, is that our political ties run deeper than just what appears on the surface.

Our country has big problems, y’all. They extend to the tensions we have in race, in money, and certainly, in the places that we live. Until we begin to re-work a system that does not work for all of us, I’m not sure how our country can keep moving forward.

I didn’t leave Oklahoma without hope, however. At the United Methodist church in town, I had the opportunity to talk with church leaders who cared deeply about their communities and how to represent them and serve them – in and out of their church. One woman, an immigrant from Mexico, talked through tears about her journey as an immigrant woman in this country. She alluded to being treated terribly, horrifically, and yet, still believing in what this country has to offer. This, my friends, is what makes America great. When people, different from us, can still hold optimism close to the pursuit of American ideals of equality and freedom. We can do it. My, my, I hope we can do it.

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