Love as a Movement

love as a movement

I was at a training for community leaders interested in leading dialogues that bridge divisions. At the end of the evening we broke off into open space groups. This means a number of people propose discussion topics and we go to a room we want to and talk about the discussion topic. We had the freedom to come and go if we were not learning or contributing. The group discussion I joined focused on the spiritual element to healing and reconciliation work. We begin to talk about spiritual practices that might enliven, sustain and replenish the souls of justice workers. It made me think about a song we learned last week at our community worship service. It goes, “I’m gonna love everybody, deep down in my soul.” The music minister said that they used to sing the song during the civil rights movement before they would go out to march or demonstrate. They would sing that one line over and over again until their hearts and minds and spirits had absorbed enough of the message to go out and meet the harshness and brutality they would surely endure. No one moved until everybody felt ready. They let love permeate them until they could withstand abuse without retaliating. I think this is what Martin Luther King would have called soul force. It’s the force that it take to win your enemy or oppressor over not by gun force, malice or excessive force but by the sheer power of your love for what is right and good, to stand up and be beaten for it.

I’ve encountered a lot of rightfully angry activists, advocates and community members. They believe in their cause so much that they hate and libel and retaliate against their enemies. I don’t want to react in anger towards others. I might indeed be angered but I want to respond with the spirit of a peacemaker. At my core, I want to love and respect of all humans, even when it is not returned, even when they lash out against me.

One of our participants said that at the heart of the movement for justice should be compassion and forgiveness. He talked about love as a force, not sentimentality or intense good feelings, but moving into the world from a centered place of good will toward all human beings and the world we inhabit. This kind of movement takes deep inner work, inner healing and constant self-awareness and correction. In that vein, love seems to be more than feelings. Perhaps it’s about commitment to seek the good of the other, for all of humanity, to seek your own spiritual healing and growth, to commit to keep your heart pure of bitterness, resentment and hate. The premise of Initiatives of Change is that social change starts with our own personal transformation. In this particular open space session we explored the kind of practices that help us stay grounded so as to move toward changing the world from a transformed place, practices like reiki, prayer, mediation and in my example singing and worship. Love has to be nourished to be sustained.

Love as a social movement, even a political one, has at its heart the first two commandments, to love God and love your neighbor. To love God is to keep his commandments and be committed to what God would be committed to, which I think is peace, justice, healing, reconciliation and transformation (on all levels, person, social, political etc.), to name a few. Then to love your neighbor which means to love the people who are in front of you, in your community and the larger world; to be committed to their well-being in the ways that God has called, gifted and impassioned you. I think our calling is a way in which we can practice love and let it flow through us in our work and lives. Frederick Buechner said “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” In this way we can practice and be committed to love with our whole beings, in our work, our relationships, our conversations and our movements toward our best selves and a better world. That kind of love is much bigger than a feeling, it’s both practical and spiritual. This kind of love is a movement into the heart of God and indeed a movement of the spirit.

 

The Inconvenient Truth

Inconventient Truth

In 1903 W.E.B Du Bois wrote in The Souls of Black Folk, “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.” Over 100 years later, that statement still rings true, it is playing out in the incidents in our cities, in disparities in education, healthcare and wealth, to name a few. Race, Racism, Systematic Racism, White Supremacy, Slavery, White Privilege and the nearly four century history and legacy of the abuse of the black body are not conversations for the faint at heart. These are not easy topics to explore, unpack and grasp if we are not ready for the truth, the whole truth. I’ve had the opportunity to hear from some of the nation’s foremost thinkers and historians talk about these things openly. I have also had the chance to discuss these topics with a dynamic group of community leaders who are committed to unpacking this hard truth and moving toward reconciliation. Despite our 400 year history and recent events in our nation, this gives me hope that we can look problems of the color line in the face, if we commit to facing the truth.

On Saturday, John Franklin from the Smithsonian who is involved in the efforts to build the African American History and Cultural Museum in Washington, DC spoke to the participants of the Community Trust building fellowship of Hope in the Cities. He gave us a brief history, with maps and numbers, of the transatlantic slave trade. He said that the Smithsonian wanted to begin the story of African American History with acknowledging that enslaved Africans stories did not begin when they arrived in America. His map showed the dispersal of African Slaves from 1500-1901 and it displayed how 15M+ people were dispersed around the world, only %5 of which went to the US. He noted that “the slave trade was one of the first forms of globalization,” and indeed his maps showed how the institution was a global enterprise.

The week before, I went to a talk by Edward Baptist, author of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalist.” Baptists’ premise is that slavery contributed to the rise of capitalism, that slaves were commodities, the labor and collateral that allowed the US and other western nations to flourish. Cotton was like gold a few centuries ago and enslaved Africans cultivated and picked it free of charge to be bought, sold and processed all over the world. Baptist gave the audience a history lesson on the slave trail that enslaved persons frequently walked from Virginia to places west and into the Deep South. He spoke aloud the 49 names of specific enslaved persons who walked hundreds of miles, nearly starved and in chains during a particular 6 week journey. This reminded us of their humanity, how they would never return to their families, friends and previous ways of life. This happened to people over and over again for centuries, and this is the labor force that built our nation. Our entire nation has and continues to benefit from what slave labor build. Conversely, we also suffer from the consequences inherited from Slavery and Jim Crow, like racial disparities and the wealth gap. I left holding another nugget of truth, glad it was being told.

This Thursday, I went to a MLK Celebration at the University of Virginia with Ta-nehisi Coates as the speaker. Coates wrote The Case for Reparations article which appeared in the Atlantic Magazine last year. The article was astounding, so I was glad to hear him speak in person. He began with a Thomas Jefferson quote about how whipping slaves in front of one’s white children is passing down a legacy and normalizing the abuse of black bodies. He noted that we are shocked by the killings of unarmed black boys by white police officers without consequence because “we do not have knowledge of the country we live in.” What we are facing is a 350 year legacy and heritage of abuse of black bodies and that legacy is what we are seeing played out in our cities today. “When we see a man chocked and there are no consequences, we say something about who lives matter.” Coates said that we would do better if we “acknowledge our 350 year heritage in conversations on race.”

He thought the wealth gap was an obvious issue to tackle in our time. He pointed out that whites have 20X the wealth of blacks, “for every $1 of wealth whites have, blacks have 5 cents.” He also noted where we live matters, “nobody is asking why Micheal Brown lived in the neighborhood he did, why are the conditions there the way they are.” I am reminded that almost every neighborhood I have lived in was one divided by a color line. The best neighborhoods I have lived in were all white and the worst were all black and severely under-resourced. Again the problem of the color line shows up, its embedded in our history, our minds, the contours of our neighborhoods.

When asked what educational institutions should do, Coates replied “so much of the problem is education,” “students need a serious understanding of American History” and “freshmen at UVA should be reading Jefferson’s notes on Virginia, particularly the section on slavery.”

When asked how whites could get other whites to understand white privilege, he spoke of moving away from talking about white privilege (he doesn’t like the term and uses white supremacy, racist and racism), the “focus on individuals is myopic, we need to talk about systemic things… we have a systemic problem of heritage and legacy.”

He admonished the audience to “make a commitment to struggle for struggles sake.” That though it’s a hard truth to face we are responsible to our grandparents who went before us and our grandchildren that will inherit our country because “things we look away from the next generations sees.” Coates denounced the idolization of past leaders because it makes the kind of progress they achieved seem unattainable; “Martin Luther King was a man…and the men and women in the civil right movement were no smarter than we are.” He finished by saying “at some point we will have to decide we want a different heritage.” I came away enriched, inspired and determined to be a part in facing the truth of the past and building a different heritage moving forward. I read an editorial in the Richmond Times Dispatch on Sunday morning about Baptiste’s book and his visit that had the same sentiment that I was feeling that “there is hope in the cities, and we shall never hope in vain.”

I was encouraged by these events that the truth is beginning to be told, the whole truth. I mentioned to a friend that “our nation needs to do some shadow work, we have to wrestle with the dark corners of our soul that we would rather deny.” Denying these things does not make them go away, they persist and rear their ugly heads in other ways and wreak havoc on our nation, in our cities and our people, both black and white. Baptiste, Franklin and Coates reminded me that reconciliation cannot happen without truth, embracing the whole truth of our shared past. The truth will set us free if we let it be told in its entirety. In that telling and reckoning, I believe we will move toward healing and wholeness.

Say Yes!

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As I was considering moving, the primary motivation for me to leave my life, friends and job behind and live and work here was that it seemed like an invitation from God to be more myself. Here was an open door that was aligned with my mission and passions, so I decided to walk through it. In saying yes to Richmond Hill, I was saying yes to my calling to community, racial reconciliation, to seek the peace of the city and my own spiritual formation. It was an act of obedience.

As a child, the word obedience seemed harsh. I associated it with the potential punishment of disobedience. In my early spiritual life, there was an angry God in my imagination, telling me the right thing to do against my will and desires. I have become better friends with the word obedience and God lately. I have learned that obedience is saying yes to who God has made me and being faithful to the tasks that help me live out that call. That also means saying no to other things, no matter how good they may seem.

Vocare, the school for vocation here, has been a wonderful space to explore God’s will for me in relation to calling. The other day, guest speaker, Dick, said “know your gifts and know God’s will for you.” He encouraged us to identify our God given gifts, strengths and talents so that we could use them to glorify God and help others. That provided such clarity. We are always trying to figure out God’s will and purpose for us and it often feels like walking in the dark. The idea that our gifts and passions are the path to His will for our lives was like turning on a light.

Rev. Nathanial, another Vocare speaker, talked about having a personal mission statement. This statement outlines your values, passion and purpose in a concrete way. It’s been an important guiding tool in his decision making. He’s had job offers he was able to easily say no to because they were not in line with his mission. Alternatively, he was able to say yes to other opportunities that were. It is another way to stay on the path toward purpose and live into a deeper sense of self. I dug my mission statement out of a pile of papers and put it where I could see it. It reminded me that writing brings me life and coaching as a way of helping others find their purpose is a passion of mine. A few encounters this week confirmed my desire and ability. I am encouraged to take a small step toward both.

I want to spend my time and energy in ways that bring me closer to my calling, passions and purpose. In the “The Artist Rule,” Christine Valters Paintner says “what brings me joy and energy also brings me closer to my calling.” Touche’! She also says obedience is listening deeply to the ways God calls you in everyday life and how you respond.”  I have gotten excited about obedience as listening for God in my gifts, in things that bring me joy and energy and responding by doing those things as often as I can. How are you being invited to listen and respond? I hope you have the courage to answer your call by saying yes to what brings you life.

A New Mindset

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I was laying on my mother’s couch on Christmas day reading the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success when I heard a knock at the door. I found my cousin on the other side with a raw turkey in hand. “I came over to fry my turkey” she said.

I cracked a smile, “Come in, my mom didn’t tell me you were coming, but I’ll get things set up and do it for you.” I am now the family turkey fryer on Holidays, just so you know.

The conversation quickly went to how she was doing. “I don’t know Ebony, I’m sad a lot and I stay to myself more than I ever have.” She had lost her mother earlier this year, had a relationship end unexpectantly and her doctor told her that she needed to lose weight or start taking diabetes medicine. That is definitely enough to cause a bit of depression, but I was impressed with her response. Instead of waiting to get diabetes, she started walking around the track, eventually joined that gym and has now lost 42lbs in a matter of months. She told me of triumphantly how she conquered the elliptical.

“When I first went to the gym, I would only walk on the treadmill and go home, that is all I could do. Then I got on the elliptical for 7 minutes, then 15, then 30 and once I passed 40 minutes, I knew I could do an hour.”

She went on in an emphatic tone. “By the summer time, all of this will be gone” pointing to the bulge in her stomach. She went on to talk about how she has been investing in her relationship with God for peace and strength, doing some soul searching to figure out who she is and what she wants to do. “I’m even thinking about going back to school, the boys are both over 18 and it’s time to do me.” “Amen” I said.

My cousin exhibited the epitome of the growth mindset I had been reading about when she knocked on the door. The premise of the book is that ability, skill and intellect are not fixed, with time and hard work, we can grow if we learn from failure and not let it measure who we are. When things weren’t going right, instead of feeling stuck and giving up and in, my cousin decided to grow and put some effort into becoming the person she wanted to be. The elliptical story is a classical example, she went from walking around the track to an hour of rigorous cardio.

This made me think about my own life, where I had given up on things because I wasn’t strong in them, though my ability was fixed and/or didn’t want to do that hard work. I distinctly remember saying to a friend “I do not like to do things that I am not good at.” I realized I was just afraid of failure, afraid to put hard work and effort into something. I just wanted to be good, without the work. Of course this is not true of most areas of my life, but I’ve always felt my sports and artistic ability was fixed. Last year, I took up swimming, it was one of the hardest things I have had to do, being bad at something for a sustained period of time. It took a lot of tenacity to begin to chip away at my fear and improve my skill. I am by no means a good swimmer now, but I can do more than I started out doing. I even had a setback when I freaked out and had to be rescued while swimming in open water. Now I am thinking about going taking some more classes so I can swim unafraid in the ocean.

I think Richmond as a city is beginning to have a shift in mindset, from apathy to the desire to realize its full potential. I’m glad I get to be present for it, to watch and participate. People hear that we are 92 out of 100 of the top cities in the area of public transit and with a little encouragement from folks like me, they are beginning to see that it is possible to change that. I wonder what would happen if more people took on the mindset of growth, learned to get better from failure and thought that it was possible to improve. I wish more people, institutions and cities would have a growth mindset, saying to failure, negative statistics and loss, and we can learn from this, we can grow, we can put in the time and effort and we can become better.

The book points out numerous examples of athletes, business leaders and everyday situations, where people looked at disappointment as a challenge and put in the energy to improve, people we think of as naturals like Michael Jordon. I don’t want to be Michael Jordon, but I do want to put in the hard work to be the best and truest version of myself. I have an inkling there are many things budding inside that need time and persistence to fully bloom.

The beginning of the year is a good time for me to have read this book. A new year is a good time to set goals and intentions, to take on a new mindset even and allow that to transform my life. Sometimes we don’t necessarily need to change a lot in our lives, but we need a new way of thinking in our lives. I pray for new eyes to see, new ears to hear and a new mind to learn and grow. The author points out, “maybe we cannot be anything we want to be, but we can be and do a lot more than we think.” Touché

This reminds me of Paul’s words to the Romans, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Happy New Year!

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