05 October, 2017

Childhood Innocence and the Confederate Flag

Let's just start this with I've been a coward....

I have had these thoughts running through my mind for weeks and haven't wanted to put them down. But this morning while running (and trying to escape a sermon the Holy Spirit wants me to preach that I really don't want to preach), I was listening to Sr. Joan Chittister and I knew I couldn't keep being a coward. For the record, I have no idea what she said that made me realize that...

So here it is...several weeks ago I saw a post on FB from a fellow clergy. I think I probably read it before most other people because I remember thinking, "YES! That's how I feel." But then the comments started coming, and to put it mildly, that's not how most other people either a) read the post or b) felt. So, I cowardly slunk away...

(I have cropped out his name as this is his story and he can own it or not.)

Here's the truth....

I too have been saddened by the NEEDED removal of the confederate flag and the NEEDED removal of confederate monuments. And I have been embarrassed, ashamed and perplexed by my feelings. I am all about respecting the dignity of every human being, treating everyone as equals; I am all about working to dismantling racism, so why would I even for a moment be sad by something that so clearly needed to be done? My colleague's post forced me to look more closely....and I remembered.

I remember sitting in the back of the school bus (the coveted seat-it helped to be the first stop) and
singing at the top of my lungs the theme song to the Dukes of Hazard (along with "my bologna has a first name....sing along people I'm sure you remember the words). I remember sitting at the pool talking to the person (who I can't remember) who knew John Schneider and convincing ourselves he would show up at any moment in the General Lee to hang out with us and play hearts. I remember coveting (yes I know that's breaking one of the 10 commandments) my little brother's General Lee matchbox car. I remember climbing through our car window so I could be just like Daisy Duke. (I also remember I bore NO resemblance to her, but that's another post...)

I remember writing every book report I could all through elementary school on yet another book I had read about General Robert E. Lee mainly because I was horse crazy and I wanted a horse to name Traveller. And I remember puffing myself up in History of Virginia taught by the legendary D. A. Williams (who also taught my father) because the text books we were using were written by our dear family friend Dr. Emory Thomas and I had been to his house!

I recognize this isn't good enough for some; I recognize this may indeed start an avalanche of negative posts on my page; I know even some who have come directly from my body may not understand; but this is my truth.

I am not sad about the flag or the monuments. They have to go for so many reasons but most importantly because they are hurtful and divisive. I am not sad about that, but I am sad about the loss of the innocence of my childhood. I am sad that times I, until now,  have looked back upon as times of carefree childhood laughter and innocence are now gone. I can no longer think of those memories and the people surrounding them without a shroud of darkness.

Did we know better? No Should we have known better? Perhaps. We were just kids growing up in Georgia--loving singing out of tune on the school bus, carefree summer days and reading history. We were just the good ole boys (and girls) never meaning no harm....and now we know how much harm there actually is and was. And for that I am sad--because we didn't know better, because we didn't do better.

But what really makes me sad is knowing because of these symbols times of my happy innocent childhood were built around, there were other children living in my same state, my same community who have no happy innocent childhood memories.

A little bit of my childhood innocence has died, and I pray that out of that death will come resurrection and new life. I'm ready to be a part of that....

16 August, 2017

I was a Soft Racist at UVA

Three days ago I wrote about being a UVA parent and the racist violence in Charlottesville this past
weekend,  and I must confess I was quite flattered by the responses I received. I was told the writing was beautiful and inspiring among other things. It was shared and read repeatedly. I confess it may have gone a little (a lot) to my head, but that's not the confession I need to make.

Over the last 24 hours I have felt less proud and more, well compelled to tell the rest of my story. The part of my story that is not so beautiful, that is not so inspiring. The part of the story that I have been forced to face especially since reading Josh Bryan's blog Charlottesville was my Fault. The part that makes Charlottesville my fault...

I don't suppose anyone would have ever considered my family of origin racist. And I can assure you soap would have been eaten if either of my parents had ever heard us use the n-word or any other racist language. But...

The story was told many times about my mother crying for hours after seeing the movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner because she had two baby girls and worried that might one day be us. We "weren't racist" but we had family and friends who were and after visits with them we were lectured on how wrong it was, but no one ever said anything while we were there instead choosing to keep the peace. And then we went to Charlottesville...

In 1987 I transferred to UVA the school I had sworn I would never attend. (In fact I may have told Dean Jack Blackburn to his face that he didn't need to waste the stamp sending me an application; yep I was that kind of kid) On our drive to Charlottesville my grandfather died which we learned when we arrived at my aunt and uncle's home. My uncle was an English  professor at UVA and former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. We made a plan to quickly move me into my university housing apartment so Mama and Daddy could drive back to Augusta. Meredith, my sister, and I would fly back two days later.

We arrived at the apartment and entered finding warm, smiling faces lounging in the living room--warm, smiling black faces. We introduced ourselves to them, explained what had happened and quickly moved my things into my room. I don't remember much about the next 24 hours but I remember this...

Shortly after arriving back in Augusta for grandfather's funeral my parents took me aside and said, "We can get you moved. We've already talked to Uncle Irby." I'd like to say I was aghast, offended and outraged, but I wasn't. I told them I'd think about it. And I did.

Again, I'd like to think my decision was based solely on my principles but I think it was based as much on not wanting to have to pack up and move. I do remember thinking, "I'm not going to move just because my roommates are black." but again I'm not sure that was based on some moral stance as much as defiance. (Remember I was that kid in Dean Blackburn's office....)

I arrived back in C'ville very late and tired. As I walked into my room there lying on my bed were flowers and the nicest card that I still have. My roommates, Angelique, Sondra, and Carmella, came into the room, asked how I was and then we sat down and talked about the apartment and living together.

I loved living with them. There were many late nights of laughter; there were many days we gathered around sharing stories and making fun of each other. They began to call me Kunta Kanto and the name stuck. Very quickly African American students all over Grounds would holler out "Hey Kunta" when they saw me. Here's the thing, it made me feel special. I liked being known; I liked knowing so many people. It was about me and me feeling included and accepted, and not about me reaching out But here's the truth no one talked about.

In the apartment we were close; when I went to watch Carmella play basketball (she was on the women's team) we were close; but not once did we socialize outside of the apartment. Not once...(unless you consider the one time they invited me to a step show and then persuaded me to try...I give thanks daily there was no such thing as iphones then...)

But my University story doesn't stop there. That was also the year for the first time the University had a "wear jeans to support gay rights" day. And no one, myself included, that I know did.

I am not proud of any of the above, but as Dr. Catherine Meeks shared several weeks ago in the Dismantling Racism workshop, unless we own our own stories, acknowledge our part in the system, and repent then we cannot move forward.

I am truly ashamed of that year, but I also know that year was the beginning of a change in me, and I'd like to believe that year was the beginning of the story that is continuing to be told today through my daughter.  I truly wish I was as resolute then in my beliefs as my daughter is now. I can blame it on the times or I can just own my story and seek forgiveness.
Thank you UVA for being part of both of our stories.

And now I pray....

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in thy will,
and walk in thy ways,
to the glory of thy Name. Amen. (BCP)

God of all mercy, we confess that we have sinned against you, opposing your will in our lives. We have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created. We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf. Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may abide in your love and serve only your will. Amen. (Enriching Our Worship)

13 August, 2017

"If I Were a UVA Parent...."

"If I were a UVA parent..." words spoken by numerous people all over social media, in the news, in conversations over the last 48 hours. "If I were a UVA parent..." but you're not, and I am.

I am a UVA parent, and just to be completely transparent, I am a UVA parent of a white woman. Over the last 48 hours I have been seized by terror, anger, anxiety and my student is white. I cannot begin to imagine how intense the emotions of African American parents must be as they watched the assault on Charlottesville and the University of Virginia by white supremacists. I can only speak from my perspective.

What I do know is this. What occurred in Charlottesville was as John Pavlovitz said in his blog (Full blog)

09 August, 2017

It Was About the Wax Paper

Running gets me in trouble EVERY time!!!

I chose to listen to a podcast instead of music--I needed to slow down my pace so perhaps I could actually finish the run--that would be mistake number 1.

Then I chose to listen to Oprah and Glennon Doyle--that would be mistake number 2. As I was moving into the third mile I heard these words, "Addiction was a place to hide. It was a hiding place. Addiction is a hiding place where sensitive people can go."

"or not writing" I thought, "not writing is where sensitive people go, well maybe not lots of people but me. Not writing that's where I hide." Hiding takes so much energy. Hiding is making me tired. So, I guess it's time for me to come out of the bushes, here goes....

Last week we had the Louisville Episcopal vacation bible school at St. Thomas. The kitchen was full of men and women organizing the food for dinner and the supplies for bread baking (which was our craft for the night). As people arrived some of the same questions were repeatedly asked; questions that usually started with, "Have you thought about..." or "What about...." I thought I responded in a playful way laughing and asking if they trusted me.

That night I couldn't sleep (more so than normal but that's a whole different blog post). I worried about how I had behaved and how it was perceived. I worried I had not been the leader I wanted to be and that I had hurt others. Fortunately the next day was the day our weekly email goes out, so this is what I wrote...
A Message from Just Katherine
I can be pretty sarcastic—some would call it being a smart alec, some would call it something else. I prefer to call it playful BUT sometimes it’s not. Let me clarify—most of the time, if not always, it is my intention to be playful, but sometimes (and probably more than I know) it is not taken in the way I intend it to be. Feelings get hurt, anger is stirred, misunderstandings occur, and relationships are damaged, and the bottom line is it’s my fault, not the receiver’s.

Confession—it may have happened last night…..

We gathered to prepare for VBS—gathered is an interesting word—more like we randomly arrived as our schedules permitted. With the staggered arrivals, conversations were repeated; some of the same questions were asked; and I was, frankly, a smart alec.  The gist, I guess, was I said something like, “Do y’all not trust me? Do you not think I have thought of these things?” I truly was kidding; I found myself hilarious…(and I do think multiple checks on things is a good idea…)

What I didn’t take into consideration was how it was received. Beyond that, my failed attempt at humor negated the hard work and the time so many of you brought last night. People with their own children, new members of the family, people with no children, people who have been to every VBS at the other churches, and people who came for the first time all showed up and worked tirelessly to make certain those who came were greeted warmly, fed well, and experienced the love of God.

I want to acknowledge everyone who came last night (but I’m terrified I’ll forget someone); I want to thank you for the ministry you shared with so many others. And I want to both apologize for my words and thank you for ministering to me—giving me much on which to reflect.

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” I’m going to substitute the word “sarcastic” for unwholesome and commit this verse to memory.

Is there a verse you need to learn? Is there a trait upon which you need to reflect?

I read the email after it went out, and I read it again after I received a few messages. And I started thinking about my challenge to everyone to reflect on a trait. And here is now the ugly truth I want to hide behind--it really wasn't about me trying to be playful. 

It was about me. It was about how I heard the questions. I didn't hear them as questions coming from a group of people working together to make certain the event was successful, a group of people with checks and balances, a group of people just thinking aloud. I heard accusation and doubt in me. While they were asking the questions last week, I was hearing the words from 1997, "What do you mean you don't have wax paper? How could you not have wax paper? A good kitchen has wax paper." (and these questions went on for 3 days!!!), and I became defensive and scared--worried I had or would make a mistake and then everyone would know I wasn't enough, that I wasn't competent, that I didn't have it as together as I tried to make it seem. Worried that people already thought those things and that's why they were asking....

It was about the wax paper and the many other ways I had been told I wasn't enough. Despite years of therapy, I went back to that place....

Did I still owe people an apology for my sarcastic tone and words? Absolutely, it was wrong, But what I owed to myself was the truth behind my words and actions. 

It is only through acknowledging our own truths that we grow; it is only through acknowledging the places where we hide that we can become the people God intended us to be. Guess I'll start writing again.

Oh, and I still don't own wax paper.....

14 April, 2017

Crazy Socks and the Cross--Symbols of Love

I was just trying to make my bed and get ready for a walk; I'd just had a difficult conversation with my eldest son known far and wide as Boss and I needed to process and probably rewrite my Good Friday sermon...

I was deep in thought, quiet thought, and wanting to be alone, but into my bedroom he walked (notice there was no knocking), opened his father's sock drawer and took a pair of socks. (They were his--it's very hard to keep straight whose socks, boxers, t-shirts are whose in a house with 3 men). As he began to put the green socks with blue polka dots on I just had to ask, "Don't you have to wear black socks?"

"Yes, that's the uniform regulations, but I think it's stupid so I don't....." and he tried to continue but I cut him off. "I cannot listen to this. Why can't you just follow the rules? You're going to get fired. Have they written you up?" Boss, "They don't fire you until you've been written up 6 times." It did not slip past me that a) he didn't seem concerned about being written up and b) he didn't answer my question...."But have you been written up?" I pressed when honestly I really didn't want to know--or maybe I really didn't want to want to know. (This parenting and letting go of adult children is WAAAAAY harder than I ever thought it would be.) "No," he smugly said as he sprawled across my freshly made bed, "I have not been written up."

I decided I didn't want to, couldn't stand to hear anymore and I was also berating myself for ever introducing him to these crazy socks, for encouraging this. "I hate those stupid socks" I thought to myself as I walked out of the room trying to escape. He followed...

"Mama, just listen to me." "I can't." I said, "I just can't have this conversation." I kept walking; he kept following--just like he did when he was a toddler, and frankly I was beginning to think he was still that obstinate hard headed toddler!  I sat at the dining room table and I promise you I truly did lay my head in my hands shaking it back and forth and repeating like a crazed person, "Please just stop telling me. I can't take it. I love you, but I really can't listen anymore." Like a crazed or perhaps a deaf person who didn't hear the anguish in his mother's voice, he kept talking....

I'll admit now the less than compassionate thoughts that were going through my mind, "Why can't you ever just do things the easy way? Why can't you just submit to the rules, to authority, to anything? Why do you make life so hard? Why do you have to learn the hard way?" My head remained in my hands; he continued to talk.

Finally I realized he wasn't going to stop until I listened, so I slowly and reluctantly lifted my head and looked across the table at my son, my little boy who has grown into a man far too quickly--a man who had his own path and wasn't asking for my advice. "I'm listening." "Mama," he calmly continued as though my face didn't have a look of total stress, resignation and frustration, "It makes people happy to see the socks. Not a day goes by that 3 or 4 people don't comment on my socks or my needlepoint belt." (May I just take a moment to mention I am the one who made those needlepoint belts?) He continued, "I know at the hotel chains uniformity is important, but this is a hospital. Very few people come to the hospital for happy reasons, and if my socks or my belt gives them even a stupid reason to smile for just a minute, then it's worth it."

I did understand what he was saying, but deep in my core I am still that unquestioning rule follower terrified of angering authority so I said, "But what if you get fired?" He took a big sigh and said, "Ka-ther-ine (which is what he calls me when he's frustrated or thinks I'm being ridiculous--it happens a lot) yesterday I had the conversation with both my boss and my boss's boss. In the morning a lady came peeling up and jumped out of the car screaming, "they've called about my son" I could tell she was distraught so I didn't even take her name I just handed her a claim ticket." (I have to interrupt here to confess the thought did go through my mind, "I think that's another rule you broke...) He continued oblivious to my panic, "When she came back out she found me. She said she knew who I was because of the socks and she smiled a little. Then she told me her son didn't make it and she didn't get here in time. We stood and talked for 15 minutes. It's not much but I think it helped a little. That's what I told my boss, and that's why I'm going to keep wearing crazy socks and keep smiling at people and keep standing around listening when people want to talk even if it slows down getting cars pulled around, and just keep trying to help make the time at the hospital go more smoothly for everyone." And with that he quit talking and walked out the door in his black regulation shorts and green and blue polka dot socks.

I sit here on Good Friday and think about Mary who ended up following her son to the cross because he wouldn't just submit to the "rules" to the letter of and not the spirit of the law. Did Mary ever utter the words, "But what if you get killed?" Did she ever beg him, "Please Jesus just stop healing people on the Sabbath. Heal people yes but do it within the constraints of the law. And do you have to be so loud about parsing our forgiveness? Also, this eating with tax collectors, prostitutes and criminals, could you use the back door so no one has to know? Please don't turn tables over in the temple--it's against the rules." Did she ever hold her head in her hands and wonder, "Why do you have to do things the hard way? Why do you have to challenge authority? Why can't you just submit?"  Did she ever wonder how many times Jesus would be able to tick off the Romans or the Jewish leaders before he was punished? And I wonder if as she followed Jesus to the cross on that Friday over 2000 years ago was she both incredibly proud of the loving compassionate man Jesus had become and filled with dread and sadness knowing the pain that would come because of it? I wonder if she thought about the people whose lives he had touched because he reached out regardless of the rules?

I wonder if in the days and months to come she looked at the cross differently, not as a symbol of torture but rather as a symbol of her son's unconditional love for all people? I bet she did--and I bet she'd have been proud for her son to have worn crazy non-regulation socks.

13 April, 2017

Holiday Meals with Extended Family

The family holiday meal....it's coming again this Sunday. Families
all across the world will gather to celebrate Easter (and families come in all different forms). It will be a wonderful day of celebration, but we all know that along with families gathering for celebration sometimes comes a little (or possibly a lot) of family drama...

Perhaps some of you are wondering what family drama I'm talking about? The drama of past hurts, unspoken pain, and chips on shoulders that weigh us down. Then there's the  drama of the differences of opinions--political, social, religious and parenting styles. Throw in rival sports teams, and you've got a full blown recipe for disaster. So what do we do? We play nice (or try to play nice). We warn our spouses, significant others and children to avoid certain topics; we pledge to not take the bait if someone goads us; we promise to enjoy ourselves and one another no matter what. We are determined to have the most wonderful time ever. I suspect there will be a few bloody tongues
Sunday evening....

Aside--some of us get lots of practice around our routine family dinner table--

As I was thinking about this this morning I remembered a question one of my beloved offspring asked me referring to family gatherings. "Why do you never speak up when someone says something you typically think is offensive or belittles other people?" Fortunately it was dark so said offspring couldn't see the red shame that crawled up my face, and I knew I had three choices. One, I could bemoan the fact I had so many offspring that ask so many questions; two I could try to defend myself explaining sometimes it's better to keep your mouth shut (and that's true--sometimes); or three I could change the subject. Well, I could no longer do anything about the number of offspring I have and I hear it's illegal to permanently sew their mouths shut; I thought about defending myself, but my excuses sounded hollow even to me; so, I did the very mature good parent thing, opted for the third option and changed the subject.

All of this was going through my mind as I was working on my sermon for tonight--Maundy Thursday, the commemoration of the Last Supper. Jesus gathered with his closest friends, friends he has traveled with for 3 years, friends that have become family. So basically a family dinner. And what did he do?

He named it! He told the 12 gathered that one would betray him and the others would abandon him. But what he didn't then do was belittle them; he didn't ostracize them; he didn't storm away from the table; and he didn't let them do it either. They tried (Luke 22:24), but he cut them off stopping the dispute and declaring himself the servant of all. He commanded them to love one another just as he has loved them--and continues to love them regardless of their failings, regardless of the fact they
will turn their backs on him, regardless of the fact they can't live up to what he most needs from them at this time. And then, then HE FED THEM AND HE WASHED THEIR FEET!! These people who would very shortly leave him to die alone (not to mention fall asleep when he needed them most to be with him...), he fed and bathed--lovingly and gently.

Perhaps that is what we are called to do--to name the pain, to name the differences, to name our beliefs, and then most importantly to keep loving.

12 April, 2017

Forgiving United

Like the rest of the world, I have been bombarded with the news of United Airlines, and like most of I have been horrified by the
videos posted repeatedly by every news source. I must admit (read this hearing my voice trying not to be but probably sounding very self righteous) I have also been quite disturbed by the "jokes" that have made the social media circuit--you know the quotes like, "United--we carry our baggage off." I recognize sometimes we use humor to deflect the horrors that happen around us, but for some reason I'm just not there (at least not yet; I suspect there will be a blog post at some time...)

But what has my dander up--that doesn't even begin to express my anger. What has steam coming out of my ears as my head about to spin around three times and pop off is how the media has dug up "dirt" as they call it on Dr. Dao and have started a campaign to
smear his name. The very second I first heard he had a past, before I even knew what it was, I wanted to scream, "WHO CARES!?!?!! WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM IS UNACCEPTABLE PERIOD!!!" And then my snide side wanted to ask United, "So did you choose Dr. Dao because he has a past? Do you vet all your passengers and decide based on their "pasts" how you are going to treat them?" (self righteous voice is beginning to be silenced as I also begin sounding quite snarky....)

My anger increased exponentially when I heard what his sordid past was.  Dr. Dao was found guilty, according to the story in the Louisville Courier Journal of being "involved in fraudulent prescriptions for controlled substances" and that in February of 2005 he surrendered his medical license. The license was reinstated in 2015 (that didn't make headlines).

Perhaps it's because we have a personal family friend who also lost his medical license due to abusing prescription drugs. Our friend was "caught", went to rehab and then worked diligently to earn his license back. Before his death he was indeed reinstated and went on to work in public health serving those who could often find care nowhere else--another cause near and dear to my heart. (Which is why I serve on the Family Health Center board) I suspect those he cared for with kindness, compassion and care are just thankful someone served their needs and couldn't care less that he had a "past." A past, by the way, he PAID FOR--the consequences were extreme not only losing his medical license, but his marriage and the trauma his family went

Or, perhaps my anger comes from the way we villainize people who have struggled with addiction often never letting them forget "their past."  Maybe it is because I personally know far too many people who have traveled the dark road of addiction, fought their way back and yet still are "branded." Whatever the reason I am infuriated....

Yes my family friend and yes Dr. Dao did something wrong. But they both faced up to it, lived the consequences, and then were redeemed. Or were they? What these two men did was dangerous and possibly or rather probably had severe ramifications for others--a fact these men have to live with for the rest of their lives, but where is the redemption? Where is the forgiveness for a mistake made? On a bigger level, how many years will people who have struggled with drugs and addiction be required to pay for their past? I mean seriously, where is the motivation to change if your past is going to be continually thrown in your face, spread across the news, gossiped about in people's homes?

How many years does someone have to continue to pay for, to be identified by his/her past? When does true forgiveness happen, or does it? Forgiveness is hard; forgiveness is even harder when deep hurt has occurred. When the wounds inflicted are so deep the relayering of trust and the diminishing of pain can take years. But what gives us the right as people to continually besmirch those who have erred? And what gives us the right to continue to treat people as less than in every aspect of their lives just because of a mistake in one part?

This morning as I continued to be furious it suddenly struck me--I am angry because Dr. Dao's past has been thrown back at him yet again; I am angry because he has not been allowed to move on, to be forgiven, I want his past to no longer haunt him. But what that really means is there must also come a time when United and the people involved in this terrible tragedy must also be allowed to move forward in their lives and to be forgiven.

Man this is hard!