Pride: A Celebration of Love.

As a kid, I was obsessed with Lucky Charms, saving each of those colorfully flamboyant, sugar-filled marshmallow pieces until the very end of my cereal consumption. I would eat the toasted oat pieces first, then slurp the milk, and lastly, like a raving encore at the end of a galvanizing concert, eat the marshmallows into a large, heaping spoonful of delight. I liked Lucky Charms because they were tasty and certainly, “magically delicious.”

When dad dropped me off for day care – and I was maybe 4, 5 years old – we would eat bowls of cereal for breakfast. Most of the other kids would stop after 1 bowl. But you could be certain, if Lucky Charms was the cereal of the day I would be back, once, twice, you never know. Yes, rainbows, from the start of my life were important – and not just because of my breakfast choices.

During my summers, off from school, I spent most of my waking moments outside. When you grow up in Colorado, that’s just how that goes. I would ferociously bike around the neighborhood with my brother, chasing rabbits, catching speed, and pursuing adventure. We would come home right before day became night and encounter the beauty of a sky speckled with hues of blood orange and royal blue. On providential days, there would be a rainbow, too.

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I learned about rainbows when I started going to church. I was a late-bloomer in the Christian world, not having started regular church attendance until I was in high school. When I received my first Bible, I voraciously read parables, stories, and narratives of wisdom to build the budding foundation of my faith. I read about Noah, as new Christians often do, and noticed very specifically the presence of a rainbow. In Genesis 9:17, God tells Noah,

“Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.” (NLV).

 A covenant? With all creatures on earth? Cool. That’s great.

This wasn’t just any covenant either – this promise from God to Noah represented the peace that God brings to, for, and with humanity. I didn’t know it then, but this was a pretty damn big deal.

As it turns out, a rainbow is never just a rainbow.

Every year, when June rolls around, we celebrate “Pride Month” and rainbow flags (also known as the gay pride flag or the LGBT pride flag) pop all over town, and all over the country. June was selected to be LGBT Pride Month because the Stonewall Riots (Manhattan, NY) ended in June of 1969, launching a series of gatherings, parties, and concerts to celebrate the community. It was a tipping point for the growth and visibility of the LGBT movement.

On street corners, in office buildings, and on the front stoops of bungalow homes during Pride Month, you can find these flags. In recent years, big corporate companies re-brand for the celebrations too, integrating these vibrant colors into their existing logos in solidarity. We’re with you. That’s the message and that’s the point.

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Example of LGBT-focused Corporate Branding: Target.

But, what does this, the rainbow flag, actually mean?

The flag and the colors themselves have shifted over the years, especially as the design as undergone revisions and changes; sometimes the changes have been motivated by fabric colors locally available, other times it’s been a larger cultural shift, like this year, with the addition of black and brown to the flag, pointing to the necessary unity for LGBT people and people of color. Most typically, the flag now carries six stripes: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

The original flag, designed in 1978 by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker, held eight colors, each with its own symbolism. Baker said as recently as 2015, “…we needed something to express our joy, our beauty, our power. And the rainbow did that.”

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These colors are not unfamiliar or foreign to me; I saw heaping amounts of glitter, sparkles, and unicorns at Denver Pride last year – in 2016. I was learning about what the colors and vibrancy meant; however, I still felt distant from the freedom they offered. By the dozens, people danced along Colfax Avenue recklessly and without abandon, cheering as loud as their voices would allow, and waving bandanas unceasingly in a sign of harmony and togetherness. I was marching with the Colorado Returned Peace Corps Volunteers group, and these scenes of joy and love moved me – but again, I felt disconnected from it. Internally, I was battling with what I knew to be true (I am gay) and the outward expression of my life (let’s not tell anyone about this). I could see the life I wanted, but like grasping for something just far enough away, I was not sure I would be able to ever hold on to it.

I signed up to march in the Pride parade because of the June 12, 2016 shooting at Pulse. This was a sacred time for the LGBT community and upon learning of what had happened at the Orlando nightclub, I knew that it was incredibly important to attend, stand with, and be present to this celebration of inclusion. Hate, I felt strongly, would not have the last word. I wanted to be present to a place that says, “Yes! We are here. We are together.”

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Denver Pride, 2016.

I’ve read somewhere that on average, a person who happens to be gay “comes out” seven times. You come out to yourself – again, again, and again, and still, again. Then, when you can accept this, you begin to offer this very vulnerable part of yourself to others.

“Coming out” is both powerfully beautifully and oddly strange.

The beauty of coming out is allowing yourself to be known, and for the other, to affirm the love that pulses within us.

The sad part of coming out is that it often is such a tumultuous process. Never in my life have I had to share something so intimate with other people, hoping earnestly that I would get the stamp of approval. Can you imagine doing this to every single person you know? It’s lovely. But, let it be known, it’s absolutely exhausting.

Have you ever “come out” because you have a large inheritance? Have you ever “come out” because you eat fish, not beef? Have you ever “come out” because you are brown-haired, not blonde?

Why, I often wonder, have we stuck LGBT peoples with the task of having to work so hard to normalize what has been birthed inside of them? It’s complicated, too, because unlike race, or even ethnicity, a person’s sexuality can be relatively hidden. I can’t hide that I am a white woman. But, gay? I could hide that if I desired. And, I have. And, I did.

Pride nullifies this process entirely.

Pride doesn’t say that you are “OK” – Pride says you are loved. Pride puts the excruciating process of judgment on the shelf and says, rest. Laugh. Love. Pride reminds many that they are not alone.

I didn’t “get” Pride until I finally came out (again). All along, I’ve known this truth about me. But, there is a very important distinction between “being gay” and “choosing to be who you are.” People remain stuck in the closet of isolation, trapped by fear and shame, and never (literally, and sadly, never) live openly.

I was more at rest than I have, perhaps, ever, been when I attended Denver Pride this year, in 2017. I was not hiding anymore or trying to change my own mind about who I was. I am living my life, outwardly, driven by the most real pieces of who I am. The energy and vivacity of Pride reminded me that I, like many others, had made it. I chose freedom. I chose life.

Chelsea and I arrived late, dropping glitter from our matching tutu outfits everywhere we walked. I wore my favorite unicorn shirt and clapped, laughed, and shouted as representatives from churches, businesses, groups, organizations, and everyone in between walked by. We ate popsicles and took photographs. We hung out with our friends in the shade. We visited what felt like hundreds of booths, all with rainbow gay echoing the same message: love.

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Denver Pride, 2017.

Pride, at its core, is a celebration of love.

Towards the end, as the music waned and the sun started to burn ever so slightly on my skin, I took a small, private moment with God to say, “thank you.” I was inexpressibly grateful, filled to the top of my cup because finally, Pride was something I could step into and know.

Pride was more than flashy celebrations on blocked black-tar streets around the world. Pride was more than the pomp and circumstance of love is love is love. It’s all those things, of course, but Pride is special because it is a sacred time of the year when all of us in the LGBT community can remember, reflect, and be driven forward with the conscious reality that we matter, we are loved, and we can be ourselves. Pride acts as a marker against hate; freedom for us, liberation for all, it’s bound up in the ability to think differently, and to do things differently, too. I’m certainly not perfect. I have more work to do – for myself and others. Pride tells us to “go” – to not stop – and to push forward even when it feels like systems, world views, or leaders want otherwise.

Pride is a place where God can enter and say, “Yes, YOU! YOU! You are strong enough.”

I accept.

I am home – and that’s why Pride is so special, and that’s what it means to me.

the welcoming tradition.

Men hate each other because they fear each other,
and they fear each other because they don’t know each other,
and they don’t know each other
because they are often separated from each other.

Martin Luther King, Jr. 

In times of grief, I often pray with my hands cupped together, as if I’m holding all the pain in my tired fingers and asking for God to see it, hold it, and carry it with (or for) me.

I began praying like that on a trip that culminated with time at a progressive Methodist church in Birmingham, Alabama (Highlands United Methodist Church). I was with a group of Hendrix students, learning about the Civil Rights movement while also taking part in service work. This experiential learning program was designed to explore on-going, systemic issues of poverty, race, and historical segregation – especially in the South. On one of the final evenings, I stayed alone in a small, chapel-like room and lifted my hands like in the cup-like stance, praying that God would teach me how to have an open heart. My soul was tired from the stories we had heard. I was at a loss for words – in disbelief of how our country had so violently and rigorously held onto exclusionary policies and attitudes because of a person’s race.

What disturbed me then, as it continues to do so now, (today, in 2017 when we legislate the rejection of people not quite like “us”) is that exclusion was not the kind of tradition I was taught. I, in the tapestry of experiences across state lines, groups, ethnicities, countries, genders, and families have been shown and empowered with a welcoming tradition. I refuse, resolutely, to disembark from this way of loving and honoring the humanity around us.

I took time this week to jot down specific moments or circumstances by which was modeled for me as a way of inclusion.

Inclusion, inherently, comes with risks.

If we embrace “otherness” in our communities (whether that includes a different religion, ethnicity, sexuality, socio-economic background, gender, etc.) we can’t guarantee consensus. If we celebrate diversity, we might have to live in the tension of misalignment. Most profoundly, if we welcome people that are not like the community we live within then we might lose the power we have systemically maintained.

Imagine!

What if the opportunity for inclusion presented a pathway to disassemble privilege so that we could access a more equitable, shared, opportunity-rooted society?

I’ve suggested something like this with close family members before and have been called a “socialist.” In a better light, I’ve been characterized as simply “too idealistic.”

But in fact, welcoming others is a tradition found within the framework of the beginning Christian community, not merely something I only formulated myself.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God…May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15: 5-7; 13

My push, desire, and passion for inclusion stems first from my faith, and then from my upbringing and experiences. Truthfully, it also comes from a deep-seeded belief that each and every human has value. All of us. We’re messy, incomplete, wrong, misguided, mean, selfish, corrupt, and imperfect people. But, that doesn’t change the fact that we are alive and to be image-bearers of Christ. We are not Christ. Rather, we are made in His image, carrying some piece of that reflection with us.

I’m blessed because I’ve seen enough inclusion in my life to know that it is the worthy way. I will commit my life to it. And for that, I have the people in my life to thank for showcasing what it means to see, love, and accept people and to courageously choose the path of integration, not separation. It’s harder, but the right thing usually is.

Inclusion: noun

the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.

Divorce

Appropriately, my first molding to what relational inclusion can be, came from my parents. I’m forever grateful for that.

My parents divorced in the fall of 2003. I was 14. It was the dismantling of my family as I knew it, though frankly, I had expected it to occur many years prior. I was sad, of course, but I was also hopeful that both of my parents could heal and find the happiness they so deeply longed for, needed, and deserved.

Initially, to cope, I threw myself (literally) into sports. Field hockey became the outlet by which I could channel my spectrum of emotions (despair, gratitude, doubt, expectation, concern, and uncertainty) and still process what was happening. My parents were available to ask questions, and most conspicuously, did their damndest to uphold consistency to our life. I still took the bus to school, I maintained delicious dinners of macaroni and cheese, and for a while, we stayed in the same house, with our parents rotating each week.

Eventually, as the dust began to settle, even over the course of months, years, and other marriages, I witnessed something quite miraculous. My mother and father kept an amiable relationship, and because of that, kept an inclusionary approach to each other in our lives. It would have been easy for my mom or my dad to silo their experiences with us – away from one another. Instead, together, they attended sports’ games and activities and together, built the role of both “mother” and “father” equally, without marginalization or omission. This can be unique in the status-quo for divorced families.

What I learned – from both mom and dad– is that even in time of division, a cohesive community still can be cultivated. Our family could remain intact, just different than before.  Yet, even in our pain, our growth as a family that included myself, my brother, my mom, and my dad remained.

Menifee

I graduated from a public-school system with resources. Lots of them. Cherry Creek Schools are well-known (locally and nationally) for excellent teachers, technologies, and innovative classroom methods. To be honest, I didn’t know how lucky I was until I left.

I’ve always loved volunteerism and as a student just outside of Little Rock, I made it a priority to find the perfect club, activity, or organization where I could get involved. When I joined the team of Menifee, a tutoring and education program for rural Arkansasan youth, I fully, and finally realized how advantaged I had been to receive the kind of education I did.

Menifee, a small, rural town near my school (we’re talking population 311), is a community that has over 10% of people living below the poverty line. It also has a sizeable population that attend school districts lacking in quality teachers, experiential learning, and enough resources (say, textbooks) to provide high-level classroom engagement.

Once a week, a well-known (and well-liked) Hendrix professor would bring a handful of tutors to practice spelling, mapping, or time tables with Menifee youth. Her compassion for this community was compelling and deep; she worked for years to elevate the educational opportunities for these children, and truthfully, it was inspiring to even just be around. Unrelentingly, she believed that these children had every right to access a fair, equitable education.

Tutoring was just one facet of her efforts; she also advocated for parental engagement, believing that strong families can encourage student proficiency. I learned from her that inclusion of all students is essential to our future. If we neglect students from rural, minority, or poor communities, we inherently advocate for a society that doesn’t push forth opportunities for knowledge – for all.

GLOW & BE

While in the Peace Corps, I wrote extensively about the experience of educating young women, particularly in the realm of personal growth, leadership, relationship-building, and women’s issues. After school, once a week, I would meet with our “GLOW” (Girls Leading Our World) Club (usually with around 20 students) to discuss issues relevant to their lives (sex education, menstruation, studying habits, and boys). It was a powerful experience, one that still informs the work and passions I have for encouraging safe spaces for women.

Over time, the club became, truly, theirs. I sat on the side, allowing their own leadership to thrive and for them to establish the kind of conversation they desired.

After about a year of meeting regularly, the president of the group approached me with an idea: let’s include the boys. I was confused at first. Boys? We want to empower boys? Wasn’t our club designed to empower our female populations?

Her idea took root. By including males in the conversation of empowerment, we empower both genders – together. If women are to rise in confidence, efficacy, and choice, inherently, men would need to join us. They would need to advocate for us, and us for them. We started a “BE” (Boys Empowered) club the following term – designed to educate boys on how they can be a part of the process to empower themselves – and women.

Even years later, I’m still amazed at this kind of foresight and progressive thinking. Inclusion, is necessary for all genders, across all spaces.

Denver Community Church

Most recently, my church, Denver Community Church (DCC), has publicly announced its decision to be a fully inclusive church – largely in reference to inclusion of the LGBT community.

The 2-year discernment process involved elders of the church praying, analyzing scripture, discussing, and meeting with members of the LGBT community. They have most recently launched a 5-week learning group to explore these issues publicly, and declare, without reservation that LGBT members are welcome to attend, serve, and have as meaningful of a place in the church as anyone else.

I’m gay, and I’ve known that a long time but have not lived outwardly and authentically until more recently.

I never thought I would be brave enough to share this.

I never thought I would live the life I dreamed of.

I never thought I would find a church that would celebrate this.

I never. I began so many sentences with that word. I was ashamed, scared, sad, and resigned to the fact that I would have to hide this for the rest of my life.

Yet, something happened within the last year. I entered a time of deep prayer. I was provided the opportunity to do counseling. I began realizing (and fully accepting) how much God loved me. I began saying my truth aloud (again and again again) – without fear, without shame, and certainly, without going back. I had told family members before about this deep-knowing of who I was, but previously, had been too scared to live out the life I knew I was supposed to lead.

This year, I moved forward more boldly, sharing with my best friend that I knew I was meant to be with a woman. On a crazy (and wonderfully surprising) set of circumstances, I met a woman. We started dating. She became my girlfriend.

fullsizerender-2And then, this church came along, also.

You see, it all happened so fast, like a beautiful unfolding of a story that is meant to be. Even for myself, I can barely keep up.

Freedom does that – it happens fast and you can’t help but just succumb to the reality of real, gritty, kick-your-ass kind of faith.

Freedom for myself, and for others, to love God is the most beautiful kind of inclusion. We can have a place with Jesus. We can bring our most true versions of ourselves and continue to Love God, and Love others. We can live out the gospel actively and fully.

DCC isn’t asking everyone to agree with their stance on LGBT issues. What they are suggesting, instead, is a move towards love. A move towards, “unity not uniformity.” I would hope for the same thing. Because, as I witness this inclusion occur from afar, now in Rwanda for the next few weeks, I am learning how transformative inclusion can be – for anyone. I’m honored to be in a church that models this and lives this out.

Inclusion. Love. Community.

The pursuit of these ideal may be arduous, but I want in. I’m all in. No matter what.

Eat Together Anyway

Anxiously awaiting four (yes, you read that correctly) different thanksgiving gatherings over the holiday, I wrote a simple prayer in my journal.

Writing my prayers with paper and ink, for me, gives them fullness because in writing, there is an ease in both articulation and authenticity. With little effort, my hopes, fears, anxieties, desires, concerns, and thoughts rise from my soul and I know what it is I want to speak to God.

Plus, being a vegetarian on a holiday with excessive amounts of turkey calls for extra kinds of prayers (kidding, kind of).

I want to share this prayer with you.

Lord, thank you for this day.

I give thanks for a time we can remember, reflect, and cultivate gratitude.

I recognize that this space is holy. Humble me Lord, and let me honor that today.

I thank you for the humans I will sit with today. Cousins, aunts, step-uncles, family friends, grandparents, dogs, and mom, and dad, too.

We sit and eat with our people whom have both celebrated and hurt us; With our people whom have inspired and disappointed us; With our people whom have defended and accused us; With our people whom have loved and left us.

We are sinners and we are saints. And so am I.

I ask, Jesus, that this day of gratitude looms larger than philosophical, political, and worldview differences.

We eat together anyway and God, that’s the real gift.

Jesus, bring your mercy and bring your peace. Extend it where I may fall short. Thank you, Jesus, for this life.

I love you, this day, and I love this life, too. Amen.

This might be shocking (insert sarcasm here), but I’m actually not an expert on prayer. I don’t know for certain how it works. I think that’s what makes the whole faith process miraculous; we don’t know precisely when, or how, God enters these conversations, but without a doubt, He is there.

I think prayer is a revealing of self before God. Which, seems funny, because God already knows us. Still, like the exchanged vulnerabilities in any relationship we have in our life, it’s our responsibility to reveal the cracks in our perfectly manicured presentation of self and share who we are. Like, for real.

That’s why I think prayer is powerful and, I think it’s why prayer works, too.

As we toss away the layers before God, we also do so with other people. We become ourselves. And with time, we become more comfortable with that, inviting and allowing God’s grace to change us. We’re imperfect (and so are other people), and my goodness, that’s literally okay.

The table of Thanksgiving offers us this opportunity to not only empathize with the imperfection of ourselves and others, but to celebrate the goodness, beauty, and loveliness of ourselves and others, too. No matter the brokenness, the victory, the celebration, or the heartache, we’ll eat together anyway.  

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We’ll eat together even as we talk about religion, politics, money, sex, or the 2016 election. 

We’ll eat together even if not everyone in our family can be there.

We’ll eat together even when someone drinks too much and says something insensitive.

We’ll eat together even if a loved one refuses to accept another for who they are.

We’ll eat together even if forgiveness has yet to be offered, received, or accepted.

We’ll eat together even as family members begin counseling to save their marriage.

We’ll eat together even if someone continues to work far too much.

We will eat together anyway because we are family and these are our people.

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I’m grateful to have this – knowing full well that there are many individuals roaming streets, dumpsters, and shelters, with no place to go.

I’m thankful to have a home and these traditions that have come long before me.

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I’m thankful for this year, because without it, I don’ think I would be able to celebrate love, community, Jesus, perseverance, hope, freedom, and maturity the way that I can now.

I am thankful because it is the love of Christ that allows me to see this world bent towards justice and light and courage.

2016 was not good – for many (think: Syria, the death of Muhammad Ali, the Zika outbreak, racial tensions in the U.S., Brexit, etc.). John Oliver even talked about it being the worst year ever. Historians don’t necessarily agree, but we can all recognize: this year wasn’t the best.

Yet, I’m propelled, encouraged, and inspired to continue to seek all that we give thanks for: community, hope, love.

Our job is to seek, promote, and allow these things to come before the standing world order of power, greed, money, self-focus, and all of the sin that runs rampant to de-throne a different kind of kingdom that Jesus speaks so heavily about.

Until then, as we strive towards this, we give thanks and work that much harder – together.

We can give thanks because we are not alone in these pursuits.

As an addendum to my prayer, I wrote the following words in my journal from a book by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, of House for All Sinner & Saints,

“It is next to impossible in isolation to manufacture the beautiful, radical grace that flows from the heart of God to God’s broken and blessed humanity.

As human beings, there are many things we can create for ourselves: entertainment, stories, pain, toothpaste, maybe even positive self-talk. But it is difficult to create things thing that frees us from the bondage of self. We cannot create for ourselves God’s word of grace. We must tell it to each other. It’s a terribly inconvenient and oftentimes uncomfortable way for things to happen. Were we able to receive the word of God through pious, private devotion – through quiet personal time with God – the Christian life would be far less messy.

But, as Paul tells us, faith comes through hearing, and hearing implies having someone right there doing the telling…Sometimes, I believe that God’s word of grace can also come through simple, imperfect everyday human love.”

Accidental Saints, Nadia Bolz-Weber

solidarity

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, which among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…

The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

With every headline of violence, bombs and gunshots; with each story of continued injustice; with repeated syllables of hateful rhetoric, my heart breaks all over again.

Last month, on a visit to Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to touch the glass that protects the foundational documents of our country: the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. My fingerprints left a stain and smudge; layered over thousands of other visitors who did the very same thing.

I peered closely in the dim lighting to catch the words: all men are created equal

Sighing heavily, I wonder what power our words still have.

We hang our hats on freedom, and yet can’t swallow the idea of equality.

We raise the colors of red, white, and blue but become squeamish when we talk about the reality that #blacklivesmatter.

Diversity is welcome – but only if we can put a quota on categories and markers – as if a “token” individual for a given race is the solution to acknowledging the prevalence of power structures built and ingrained into the fabrics of our systems.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, National Mall, Washington D.C. 2016

Tears fall heavy tonight as I remember the simultaneous power and confusion I felt when I saw the documents that laid the so-called “foundations” of our country. How have we gotten so far off track?

Tears come unceasingly as I think about the families of people who have died – throughout our history – because of who they are.

I cry because though slavery has ended we are perpetuating slavery by another name.

We are killing each other.

I’ve held no gun, but there is blood on my hands.

For any injustice I have left unsaid; for times I have been a recipient of white privilege without even the smallest inkling of recognition; and for the assumptions I have at times built in my own mind about who people are because of the identities they carry –

I’m sorry.

My mom tells a story from when I was just 2 and visiting in the waiting room of a pediatric office. We walked inside and as we sat down, I looked across the way and saw another child, around my same age.

With glee, curiosity, and enthusiasm, I shouted to my mother,

“Look! A chocolate baby!”

I don’t tell this story because it’s endearing; I tell it because even as a young girl, I could see a difference and acknowledge it.

The difference isn’t necessarily the problem: it’s the reaction to it.

Blackness is something to be celebrated; a legacy of men, women, and groups of people advocating for necessary, mandated rights to be free in our country. It is an identity, one full of roots, history, and culture that is permeated with strength and the tradition of overcoming adversity. And yet, “to be black” in America today is not something I can even begin to wrestle with. “Black” is a socially-based racial term, used loosely and accepting the separation of equality that it brings.

Yes, uphold diversity, but do not diversify the value, respect, and civil rights that each person holds individually and collectively. 

It’s not as if being white isn’t an identity too, but understand that “being white” has been the norm for human societies since the beginning of existence. To “celebrate” whiteness is a lot like cheering for a proverbial NFL team that wins the Super bowl every, single year. It’s the norm and our society structure is built to support this.

As I grew into a young woman in my late teens and early 20’s, I would literally lose myself in books about social movements – especially the Civil Rights of the 50’s & 60’s. I cared far more about Rosa Parks than I ever did about the Spice Girls.

And when I began to become educated, not just in school, but in life and in my faith, I learned about the real oppression happening to other races outside of being “white.”

I saw it, I watched it, and I grew increasingly sickened by it.

To this day, Divine and I often talk about her skin color specifically; she was told on many occasions in her life that she was “ugly” because of her dark skin and that her beauty would never come from her physical appearance.

“To be white,” she once said to me while visiting her family in Rwanda, “is to hold many treasures and coins to life.”

When you hear something like that, you can’t help but examine your own fixed position in the world. You wonder, “why, why was I born like this?”

God has a plan, they say, and though we must live in the tension of not knowing everything, it’s true that we are in the places, times, and seasons for a reason.

So, why don’t we speak truth? Why don’t we take a stand? Why don’t we do the hard thing and look in the mirror, seeking our own bias and positions of power that we may have missed before?

I firmly, and resiliently believe that God does not stand for racial segregation, oppression, violence, separation, and hate. More than that, I think the same is true for anyone – for any living, breathing, human life. Yes, all lives matter, but we can’t acknowledge that fully until everyone – I mean, everyone – obtains real, living equality.

No more lip service. It’s time to stand in solidarity. It’s time to speak truth.

I have committed myself to retracting myself from this endowed, inherited legacy of privilege. It’s sticky. It’s messy. I don’t always know how to weave myself out.

But I will not stop.
I cannot stop.

Jesus’ greatest command was love. Our country’s greatest command was equality.

Can’t we strive for these together? Can we, together, recognize our brothers and sisters in the communities we live within?

Jesus,

Forgive our ignorance. Forgive our disunity. Forgive our separations.

I pray for peace. The kind of peace that trespasses all understanding – the kind of peace that can only heal these kinds of wounds.

Please, please, please come. Make this stop. Please. Make it stop.

We love you. I love you. 

Amen.

cops, community, culture & doughnuts

“Can I be straight honest with you?”

With blue-rimmed Oakley sunglasses, a Denver Police Officer glances at me as the sun scales the sky. I’ve been sitting with this man for 45 minutes, eating a Voo-Doo doughnut, and watching Afghani women learn how to ride bicycles at community celebrations for World Refugee Day. We sit together at a white folding table and continue chatting – most particularly about the needs for every refugee child and family to access quality education, a safe place, and an opportunity for employment.

Sarcastically, with a sweet smile, I mutter, “I mean, yeah. I’m not wearing a device or anything.” I grasp my loose t-shirt to prove the validity of my claims.

“These communities…frankly, they have to assimilate. They move here. They have to assimilate. They – “

“Hold on. I understand where you are coming from, but be careful with your words. “They” is too much. There are far too many stories to fit under one narrative of ‘they.’”

I can’t believe I’ve interrupted a cop to correct him. Oops? I shrug and continue.

“Assimilation fits within the much larger process of acculturation. Ideally, new community members embrace the culture of their new country and begin the journey of becoming bi-cultural. It doesn’t happen overnight. Integration and identity are tricky – and they take a long time. These aren’t simply semantics; these are the parts of the process of entering and becoming part of a new community.”

“Oh…okay, that makes sense. I just know there is a lot of fear that groups of foreign communities will settle here and remain insular and extraordinarily tight-knit. We have reason to believe there is a plethora of extremism.”

I am the first to acknowledge that I do not have any kind of secret intelligence. I don’t know what the cops or government officials do – honestly, I’m not sure I would want to. What I do know, however, is that extremism, as it’s aptly named – is just that. Extreme. You can’t lump groups of people into boxes simply because of fear.

“If you are afraid of ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ than you may want to push your own self to enter into communities that you wouldn’t necessarily try before. Most importantly, you have to follow the lead of the communities themselves.”

As I’m talking the zing of a “light bulb” idea hits my head. I swallow the rest of my doughnut – washing it down with a slug of coffee. It might be 98 degrees outside – in the middle of June – but coffee holds no time stamp.

What if the Peace Corps model applied to immigrant, refugee, and multicultural communities in the Unites States? What if a year or two of service meant an individual lived within a group of people and was responsible for showing them the ropes? This volunteer would humbly lead a family through the process of becoming a part of America – and yet still holding onto their culture of origin. Isn’t this what “makes America great” – the beautiful blend of so many different cultures simultaneously pursuing values of freedom, equality, and liberty?

Unable to articulate all of the ideas bopping around in my head, I do the thing that comes the most natural. I invite this 17-year veteran police officer to a Rwandan wedding. Obviously.

“Listen. You’ve expressed a desire to restore positive relationships in these communities that are unfamiliar for you. What if you came to a Rwandan wedding with me? An event put on by the community itself? There’s one happening in two weeks – just over off Colfax.”

I think I surprised him as much as I surprised myself.

“You know, actually….yes. I think I might be able to do that. Will you email me the details? I will definitely see what I can do.”

I pass him one of my business cards. He gives me a Denver Police brochure – complete with all of the services that community resource officers provide: mediation, protection, check-ins, support. A broad range of services are listed, I can’t help but think that this could be the most under-utilized resource at the disposal for communities all over Denver.

He thanks me for the conversation and wisdom. I echo the same sentiments, particularly in gratitude for the number of years he has served the Denver area.

The conversation stuck with me the rest of the weekend.

It stuck with me as I took a Burmese friend of mine back to her apartment in North Denver. I carried some of her food back into her apartment. As we opened her small, rickety door, she explained in broken English that the landlord had ordered a twice monthly bug-spray prevention. That means, she elaborated, that she can’t keep her apartment organized. It’s always in disarray. Things are never put away. She’s never quite settled. She chuckles though and assures me, “don’t worry. My room is next to the office – at least I am safe.”

What if individuals and community members crossed boundaries and entered these homes? How, exactly, could they be transformed?

It stuck with me as I marched with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Colorado along the Pride route from Cheesman to Civic Center. My sunglasses hid my tear-stained eyes. I was in awe of the encouragement, positivity, and palpable sense of unity around me. It was one of the most tangible experiences with community that I have had. With thousands lined the street, shouting, cheering, and clapping – I also prayed silently.

Enough. Enough marginalization. Enough hate. Enough. Enough. Enough. Let us live into the joy prepared for us. Let us proclaim the righteousness of life itself. Let us give thanks for the greatest gift we have received. Life. Life. Life. Always life.

I lost my voice from cheering so loudly. I was proud to proclaim that loving people – really, sacrificially, and honestly – could perhaps be the most powerful thing we ever do to make the world better. God loves His people. I hold unswervingly dear to this. Just because we are broken doesn’t mean we can’t keep going. The gospel is a working, active acknowledgement that yes! We are free.

This isn’t a “bleeding heart” speaking – this is me. A woman totally smitten by Jesus – and by the people He has continually brought into my life at just the right time. Whether it be cops, Rwandans, family, refugees, or friends at the Pride March, I accept and embrace it all. This, my friends, is life.

Honor World Refugee Day.

May we support, honor, strengthen, encourage, and most importantly, be-friend individuals and groups seeking a new home and community.Multiculturalism, built with genuine hearts, can be a very beautiful thing.

You never know what someone has been through. My friends have seen the horrors of war; have felt the pangs of famine; and have been victims of the most unimaginable social injustices, from oppression, to rape, to persecution. No narrative is the same – listen, and you will see. Listen, and perhaps your world will be changed permanently.

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burning out in a crying world.

Folk-tunes blared from my silver computer mid-morning last week as I sipped my third, lukewarm cup of coffee. These days, my Spotify playlists have been inundated with artists like the Dirty Guv’nahs, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, or The Civil Wars. There’s something spectacularly calming about strumming banjos, melodies that sound like campfires in the back-country, and lyrics that speak on the potency of truth, the allure of a sweet, sweet crush, and the hopes for unfulfilled dreams.

I smiled as I heard the lyrics from Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors’ song, “I Like To Be Me When I’m With You.” It’s just too adorable. Perhaps, should I get married someday, this would be a lovely choice for “our song.”

You never know.

If I owned the finest vineyard, I’d rather sit and drink cheap wine with you.
If I could live on the moon, I would rather stay in Tennessee with you.
If I could sail across the ocean, the ocean would just be blue without you.
And if I climbed up Mount Everest, I would turn around and climb in bed with you.
With you I can be myself, with you I don’t have to be somebody else.
It’s like puttin’ on my favorite pair of shoes. I like to be with me when I’m with you. 

 

The song finishes, but my mind does not.

Grant applications await. Upcoming events, needed content for website, the meeting at noon, and a review of our bank statements for the previous month’s transactions flood my brief moment of peace. Soon, I’m reminded of my own, personal finances and the things I have left un-done within the realm of my own life. I think of budgets, bills, and responsibilities; my goodness the glamour of adult life has run dry, it seems.

Yes. It took all of 10 seconds to transform from a calm, gentle morning to the chaos of spinning thoughts, worries, and pieces of the day to pull together.Unfortunately, living life in a myriad of rush in the gross glorification of productivity is considered the norm in our world. Just because I don’t agree with it, doesn’t mean I haven’t become victim. I know I’m not alone in this. But goodness, it can create a weary soul in no time.

In the midst of these distractions, I got a call from a Rwandan friend in Denver.

Recently, we have become fast friends. He’s a father of two, with a wife that works downtown at a large hotel in the housekeeping department. He works as a care-taker in a nursing facility. He – and his family – don’t speak much English. It continue to astounds me how they get by. Last week, I helped them mail their rent check to their landlord in Denver. The address had changed and when they received the notice in the mail, they couldn’t decipher what exactly the change meant.

It’s the little things, you see, that make living in an outside culture overbearing and overwhelming.

This particular call was different, too. He was frantic.

A car accident had occurred the day prior and his Subaru was getting fixed at a local shop. His insurance company had issued him a rental car in the meantime. He needed someone to take him to Enterprise to pick it up for the three-day allotment.He would need an advocate; someone who could explain the insurance policies and provide a thorough process for how renting a car in the United States works.

You know what I told him when I asked if I would come?

“No. I can’t. I am working, I am sorry. I’m just too busy today.”

He was surprised as I was. The air hung in a thick silence until he resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to come. We hung up the phone and I sat back down at my dining room table.

With folk music still playing, I quietly contemplated what had just happened. A friend of mine – a friend who can’t speak English! – needed help. I said no. Did I really just turn him down? Who else would help him out? How is it possible that I just reacted like this? Worse of all, I could have taken the break! Most of my work wasn’t time sensitive and I would need a lunch break anyway!

I was quickly upset with myself. Certainly, you can’t say “yes” every single time a need arises, but if you are able to lend a hand, my goodness, lend a hand! Hadn’t I learned anything from all of the countless times that I have been helped in life? Gratitude, like dust swept from the concrete floors of our home, had been swept away for a portion of time. I was embarrassed.

I called him back immediately. I apologized, and grabbed the keys to my car so I could journey to Aurora to help him. “I’m coming,” I told him. For that, I was glad.

A situation was salvaged – but we don’t always have those kinds of chances to make things right again. I was lucky. I had placed my needs first, above a friends’. Even in my best of intentions, I had missed (almost) a potential opportunity to serve.

We get so focused thinking our job or occupation has to be “of service” and yet so often, God gives us the opportunity in so many other ways. Would we actually take it?

In a spirit of honesty, I think my initial harshness was a deeper reaction to day-to-day, on-going stress that inevitably has created tangible, real burn-out. I felt trapped by the confines of my day, by my own lack of energy, and frankly, from exhaustion. I felt beaten down and so helping someone else – even for just a moment – felt impossible. For me, when I start feeling this way, that’s when I know I am in need of a strong dose of re-calibration.

It might be folk music. It might be roller-blading. It might be long talks with friends. It might be night walks. It might be a bath and a book. It might be a glass of red wine. It might be all of the above. What’s important, is to know when this is happening, and upon recognizing, developing a way to work through it.

Ignoring it doesn’t work. Becoming enveloped by it creates discouragement.

The only way is forward. Take that path. It’s the harder one, but it’s the better one. Plan to get more sleep. Eat healthy. Take a break. Find perspective. Be active.

I’m trying this and it’s hard. These seasons can be tumultuous; but in faith, and with prayer, there will be solace. You have to believe that. Because when you do, you can live – truly live- and know the bigger picture of what’s important – and what you have to hold onto. Our brothers and sister are all around us. Sometimes they need us, sometimes we need them. We mustn’t be afraid to ask. And, we mustn’t be afraid to answer.

Live Forever

stones of help.

The intensity, growth, and pervasiveness of Denver traffic is becoming more and more noticeable these days. Ask anyone. Commuter or not, the thickness of cars – sitting idly, bumper to bumper – is a vision you will find more frequently along the two-lane routes of Downing into RiNo; from the re-gentrified enclaves of LoHi into 16th Street; or even from the curvy highways connecting Aurora to the rest of the metro area.

The recent buzz within the last year of Denver as the fastest growing city in the United States is palpable. From packed restaurants, saturated realty markets, and jammed high-ways, you can sense the growth within each segment of life here.

We – Ebenezer and I – were sitting in his car on the way to work earlier last week fighting this very traffic. Bless his heart, particularly being a new friend of mine, he had offered to help get me to the office in Denver while I waited for news on what exactly went wrong with my broken-down Honda the week prior.

As we sat in between stop-lights and construction stops, “small talk” quickly became irrelevant; for whatever reason, the breaking-down of barriers in communication is eased with open (or closed) roads and a window with a view. As we mingled in conversations ranging from cross-cultural mishaps (he’s from Liberia and now lives in Aurora), faith ideologies, and intrinsic motivations for why people do what they do, he asked me some very important questions –

“But, Heather, why do you believe what you believe? Where do you think that has come from?

I smiled and smirked my lips nearly simultaneously, recognizing immediately the wisdom from which he asked those questions. It was clear to me that through his own life story and experiences, he’d realized an important, central truth: our lives, perspectives, values, passions, and beliefs are deeply engrained from the environments we grow up in.

He then said, “What if we did know everything…could you, or anyone, really handle that?”

I took a moment of pause. These were important questions. Big questions. Necessary questions.

“No, I really don’t think we could. I think the power of our worldview rests when we recognize how wide, how deep, and how limited our experiences actually are in the context of the world and in the context of something larger than humanity itself. This is powerful, actually, because our humility enables constant learning, constant growth, and a constant desire for truth. Our humility leaves room for God.”

In that moment, I actually admitted it – it was better to trust God with life, purpose, and our stories, than it was to pretend as if we knew it all.

By “all” I mean a perfected doctrine; I mean practiced explanations for all the of pain, suffering, grief, war, hurt, and hell that we see on the earth; and I mean also how God has managed to be a creator, a father, the great “I Am”, and the redeemer. Just to name a few.

You see, the beauty of Christianity is that at its best, it doesn’t have to be a “religion”. It doesn’t have to a perfect order of things to do to please God. Christianity is about liberation – it’s about a God who loves and saves. We don’t find God. He finds us. That’s why we don’t have to have it all together. Or have all the answers. Or live life as religious zealots.

We’re free by grace – and that’s what we can “hang our hat on.”

This is a tall-order, however. If I believe this, than I must be willing to let God direct my life. If I stand by this, I must be willing to be vulnerable enough to accept how God has created me – and others. If I submit to the reality and truth of God’s sovereignty, than I can trust that my life is so infused with grace and love that I can do the impossible. We all have “impossible” things in our life; but what if we could actually do them?

I think, well, I know, this is what Ebenezer was getting at. He told me later that his car (the one we were conversing in) is named “Anaya,” meaning admire God. As for his name, Ebenezer is a Hebrew name that is directly from the Bible. Samuel, in preparation for battle against the Philistines, sets up a rock that is referred to as “Ebenezer.”

Thus, the name means “rock” or “stone of help.”

I’ll need every “stone of help” I can get in order to continue recognizing the power of humility in our day-to-day lives. I sense it in my work; I sense it in my relationships; I sense it in where my life is headed. I don’t know a lot of things. I do know, however, the bedrock of my faith – that is, God loves me. And there’s really nothing I can do about that.

That’s a pretty cool conclusion to reach at merely 7:35am on a Tuesday morning – traffic or not. Good thing there would be more coffee. Always, more coffee.

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Skies

pretty spring skies on morning commutes to Denver.