Michael Brown was shot by a police officer and lost his life.

That's all we know right now.

Is that enough to have a conversation?

After Michael Brown was shot a large portion of the community in which he lived began protesting. A small subset of those protestors began looting. The police force and media began providing snippets of the story. The internet lit up with opinions.

No one knows the facts yet of this particular situation, but we do know enough to have a conversation.

I think, based on what I have read, there are two schools of thought:

1. Michael Brown was innocently walking down the street, got into a verbal argument with an officer, tried to run away and was gunned down. The prevailing consensus in this scenario is that he was murdered by the police officer. The overarching story is that police officers are gunning down innocent black men all over the country.

OR

2. Having just committed a robbery, Michael Brown attacked a police officer who directed him to get out of the middle of the street. There was a struggle for the officer's gun, Michael ran, and then turned and charged the officer. The prevailing consensus is that the young man was threatening the officer and when 2-4 shots in the arm did not slow him down, the officer had no choice but to shoot to kill. The over-arching story in this scenario is that criminals get killed by police officers when they threaten the lives of the officer.

This is a horrific thing. It's horrific for the family of the person killed, it is horrific for the police officer. Regardless of which scenario the facts prove out - this is a tragedy. It is a tragedy because all young deaths are a tragedy. If you are a criminal - that is a tragedy! If you are unjustly murdered - a tragedy! We do not need facts to define this as a tragedy.

And the question after something like this happens is whether or not we will be able to have the hard conversations. And undoubtedely and regrettably I fear that the answer is no because the only time we actually try to have this conversation is in the midst of a battlefield and that is no time to talk - or at least, it is quite difficult to be heard.

The verbal assault by both sides seems to be deciding either all white people are racist who want these things to happen or all black people are thugs who get what they deserve. Both sides find support by trotting out statistics on crime, imprisonment, racial profiliing, etc. But is that what this is all about? Statistics?

Here's where some of you might stop reading: Systemic racism and privilege is real. The crime statistics and examples that are used to support the prison populations and unemployment lines? They are BECAUSE of system racism and privilege. I don't believe you can do the research and come out with a different conclusion. Systemic racism and privilege does not mean that all white people sit around their kitchen table and teach their children racism. It doesn't mean that you harbor racist thoughts secretly. It isn't about you. And, the fact that it exists does not absolve people of personal responsibility. This does not mean that the looting and the anger and the violence is ok. Yes, each side needs to make changes. Yes, at an individual level we each have to own our issues and take responsibility for making decisions and choices that better society.

But just because you see a large group of young black men burning up a store on tv - you can't let that be what colors your heart. You can't let that anger define an entire race. That is not a definition - it is a symptom.

Here is an example of racism: "No work boots were stolen during last night's looting."

Ha ha, right?

No.

How is that statement even mildly acceptable? It's been made into a flipping meme! It's everywhere - I've seen that in about every comment stream I've read (I broke my 'don't read the comments' policy to do some research.) What's that saying? That no black person wants to work? That they are all just waiting to steal and get a handout? Do you think that's true? Deep down somewhere, do you think that's true for 'most', or maybe just inner city black people....maybe black people that you don't know personally....

You know what - I can't talk for black people and I won't guess how they feel in all of this. I can just talk for myself: white, middle class, female, straight. I'm scared. I'm tired. I'm angry. I'm scared of the level of anger I see on TV from black people. I'm scared of the level of anger I read on the internet from white people. I'm tired of watching the same thing happen over, and over, and over, and no one ever getting to the root cause of the problem. And I'm angry that we live in 2014 and still don't know how to sit down and have an honest conversation and come together to fix it.

People are angry. People are hurt. People do not feel heard, respected, or safe. To get ahead is hard for a lot of people - but there are unconscious bias' in place that make it a whole lot harder for some. Fact.

I'll never forget being 25 years old and speaking with my best friend at work who happened to be 53 and black. She was a grandmother and we talked a lot about race because I grew up in a small, rural, all-white community, and I was just as naive as they get. I'll never forget her telling me about the conversation she had to have with her grandson about how to talk and walk in public so as not to get picked up. How to act when you got pulled over by a cop - not if - when. And you know what - within a few months he had been pulled over several times for next to nothing. Those conversations revealed to me systemic privilege years before I would know what to call it. It was in those lunch time talks that I realized that there were hidden systems that were invisible to me, but benefited me for the better, and impacted others for the worse, each and every day. I never forgot it.

I don't know why so many want to argue that this privilege doesn't exist. Especially white people. How in God's green earth do white people think they know what it is like to be black in America? How about we stop arguing and start listening. How about we stop telling people what the 'real' problem is and start listening? What is all the defensiveness about?

Someone has to stand up - a white person needs to stand up next to a black person and have a real freaking conversation. It needs to happen in our towns and homes and it needs to be real people. No one needs to hear the talking heads from Fox and CNN. It needs to be honest, and publicized, and real. The goal should be for each side to HEAR the other side. Listening. No solutions, no next steps, just an honest effort to hear one another. And permission to offend and agreement to forgive offense. Each side must be able to say their truth without fear, because until you can talk about something, you can never hope to change. And both sides will get offended if we have a real conversation - but we have to go through that.

Surely everyone can agree that we have a problem. Let's just pretend for a moment that we have all the facts and they show that Michael Brown did rob that store, did attack that officer, and the shooting was justified. What would that mean? What should our society do with that scenario? Let's broaden that and pretend that our prisons are full of black men because they actually do commit a lot of crime (and not because they are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, even if subconsciously). What should we do with that? Just keep building more prisons? Do we just wash our hands of it - call it justified - and walk away? Or, do we start digging to find out the why behind the anger. Why would a black man be so angry he would charge a police officer? Why, from a societal perspective, did this young man rob a store? Why is everyone so angry in Ferguson, MO?

Let's pretend that we find out the shooting was not justified. We find out that there was a blatant racist bias behind the incident? Do we all just say, "Well, that is one bad cop - the rest aren't like that." What would that mean? What should our society do with that scenario? Let's broaden that and pretend that there really is a systemic policy of racism that is impacting our criminal system and disproportionately putting black men behind bars. What should we do with that? Do we just wash our hands of it and pretend that nothing can be done? Or, do we start digging to find out how we can dismantle these invisible rules and systems?

Do you see? The facts of this one case should not decide whether or not we need to talk. We have a problem - no matter what the facts reveal in this particular tragedy.

I am angry. I am angry that we can't be honest enough to identify, define, and address the issue. I'm angry and scared. I don't want this for my children. I don't want this for myself. We are better than this.

John 11:35 - Jesus wept.

Let's pray for all those littles who are back in school for Day Two. Day two, without all the excitement and anticipation of day one, was met with a little trepidation and fear by my littles. They did not bound out of the house today like yesterday. They clung a little, tried not to cry, and asked if they could just stay home today.

I sat them down on the living room floor and we talked about how new things are sometimes scary. I told them I was going to be doing something new tomorrow, and I was scared, too. I reminded them that we are almost always a little scared when we start something different. And then, I reminded us all that things are almost never how we fear. Once we try, we find that it's actually fun.

We talked about being brave and we remembered that the only time you ever get to be brave is when you are scared. Today, we agreed, was a great day for bravery.

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By the time it was time to go, they were talking, giggling, and guessing about some of the fun things they might get to do today. They had found their little resolve, their brave hearts, and they were ready to go.

I called Daddy to see how it had went and there were no tears at the door. They each walked in, ready to face the day. Grace did remind her daddy, "I have to get in in time to go see Mrs. Woods." Mrs. Woods was Grace's kindergarten teacher last year, and her class is right across the hall from Grace's new 1st grade class. We had to stop their yesterday, too. As a matter of fact the first thing Grace said when she woke up yesterday is, "I get to see Mrs. Woods today!" Thinking she had forgotten, I reminded her that Mrs. Kramer was her new teacher. She said, "I know, but I get to see Mrs. Woods before I go to class." And we did. She pulled me into Mrs. Woods class yesterday and stood there until she was noticed. Mrs. Woods said, "Hi Grace! You're going to have such a great first day in 1st grade!" Grace quietly smiled, nodded her head, and then walked over to her class.

I suspect this morning was similar. Just a little touchstone of the familiar before facing the lesser known. A moment to remember that she had conquered this before, and she could again.

That is probably why we are encouraged to read a bit of scripture each day. Just a touchstone of the familiar that allows us to face the day.

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What I did not tell those trusting little faces today, is that I also felt a little fearful about their second day. I didn't tell them that what I really wanted to say was, "Sure, you can stay home with me." I also dug inside and found my bravery this morning to encourage them. And after they left I went and sat with my Abba, just as they had come to me. I ask him to protect them, encourage them, send sweet children and loving teachers into their lives. Help them to be helpers. Remind them of their bravery when I cannot.
And just like them, I left my touchstone encouraged, bolstered, and excited to face the day.

 

 

 

There is so much going on and the darkening clouds seem to portend that an ominous presence has been laid over all things. I've awoken this week gripped by fear and unable to breath with the weight of responsibility that I feel for all things. I've struggled with where to lay my worry and where to settle my focus between the darkness that is Iraq and the darkness that is suicide and the darkness that seems to be a part of all things.

I cried over Robin William's death. I cried over his death while children were being murdered for their faith. I believe that my grief for a beloved entertainer is simply a safe landing place for my grief over those children, over the shooting near St.Louis, over all things. It was a tangible loss of something that was impactful to my life. Great artists impact our lives. And the loss, via suicide, leaves in it's wake a feeling of shock, disbelief, and horror. It is tragic, but it is sadly fathomable. These children's deaths are unfathomable. This very moment those attrocities are being committed. In both instances I am helpless but in only one am I safe to grieve. In only one of these instances am I safe to simply sit in my grief. And I needed that permission this week to simply mourn. I could ask my God, "Why?" about one man's suicide. I struggle though to even mention the children - I don't even know how to ask of them.

These are the things that the unbeliever points to when they say we are wrong. When they say we make no sense. This killing in the name of Allah, is exactly what they use to discredit my God. But in this darkness is not my God.

I have no answers, no platitudes, no understanding. Just a simple faith and a shaky hope. I will not argue and I will not plea, but I will simply sit. I will sit in wild contemplation and with plaintive pleas for more hope. Just a bit more hope. I will offer my mustard seed of faith and trust that it is sufficient.

I read and read about all of these tragedies and the people who are broken by them. I soak up these stories as if the knowledge will allow me to glean a path forward. I read the stories of those who have survied the suicides of ones they love. I read the stories of one's who have survived their own attempts at suicide, and I have no guilt over my grief for this sad loss of one person. For every suicide is a tragic loss worthy of grief. Every suicide is a peek into a malicious and dangerous misfire in the mind and we pray that it spares those we know who are in the grips of depression. How many of us, upon learning that Robin - that being of laughter and light - committed suicide. How many of us immediately thought of someone we know who battles depression? We grieve not only the loss of a distant artist, but we fear the loss of someone we know to this hurtful and painful disease of depression. Our grief is acceptable. Our grief is not a dismissal of any other atrocity, but simply an acknowledgement of this one.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

The persecution and murder that is occurring in the name of a misguided and deranged religion is enough to mourn. If that were all we had to mourn, it is enough. Powerless and content, air-conditioned and overfed, I don't even know what to do with the information that I am privy to. I can't reconcile the stress I struggle with daily over the abundance in my life - I do not have enough time to take care of my abundance - and the fact that children are dying. I cannot reconcile this. I cannot. I selfishly long for the ignorance that we had before 24 hours media overtook our lives. I selfishly long for the days when I was simply unaware. Can I admit that? I do not know what to do with all of the information of the horrors that are occurring in this very minute. I do not know what to do.

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St. Louis is on fire and neither side has any compassion for the blindness of the other. All long to be seen and use verbal grenades and actual fire bomb's to do so. Creating a smoke screen of violence and ignorance that insures not only will this situation not illuminate, but it will only drive each side further apart. My own instinctual bias' born of a life of privilege must be contained and tamped down. I must constantly remind myself that because I've never been so frustrated that I wanted to burn the world down, does not mean that people who are should not be heard. My inability to understand is not proof of my being right, but only of my limited exposure. There is wrong and there is right on both sides and it is in the middle where people stand with the answers, but cannot be heard. Reason is silenced and overlooked in the face of such anger and vitriol.

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And while I am toiling through these attrocities in mind, I will also post pictures later tonight of my little one starting pre-school. I write of this insanity from a beautiful home overlooking lush woods and a beautiful sky. There is so much work to be done at work each day. I'm preparing for a party this weekend to debut my new side job that I've started to help make ends meet and meet new women, make new friends. I look forward to working with our kids this weekend at church where they will jump in bounce houses and learn about a God who loves them. My actual life is a picture of tranquility, beauty, and abundance.

And even these things, I am fearful of. Worried over how to meet all the demands of my career. Scared that my children are growing so fast and I'm unable to process a world that I'm supposed to be preparing them for. Scared to start something new, outside my comfort zone. What if I fail? Struggling to find the time to prepare the lesson and give those young ones my best Sunday morning.

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I don't understand how to live in this world with it's suicides, murder, human trafficking and racism. I don't understand how to breath under the weight of such horrific happenings.

But when I leave this room I will go play with my daughter and I will laugh. I will go collect precious stories of my son's first day of preschool and my heart will burst with joy at the sparkle in his eyes when he talks.

And in the dead of night I will wake burdened by my comforts and guilty over my day-to-day worries. Fearful for those who are battling depression, and in mourning for the lives lost across the world. Frightened by the violence mere hours away. Occupied by my mundane daily concerns and fears.

Somehow I must find a path back to balance and sanity. My overburdened heart and mind is of no good to anyone. I am of two minds and the verse about a house divided has never felt so real. I can barely stand.

"Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us." 1 John 4:11-12

I will love those closest to me. I will strive to understand those with different perspectives. I will not turn my back on the darkness but instead I will shine my light upon it. I will cling to the hope that this is not the end and this is not our final chapter. I will remember where my hope lies and I will do as I have learned to do. I will love. This is my mantra. This is my hope. This is my only hope.

We must not give in to anger and darkness. We must fight the madness of this world with gentle words and peace-filled hearts. Remembering, if we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect. There is nothing that love cannot overcome. We will fight our anger and nurture our love. In all matters, we nurture the light that is Love.

Sometimes I am really satisfied with my progress in photography.
Sometimes I see another fantastic photographer and I consider selling my gear.
Sometimes I'm really satisfied with my writing.
Sometimes I read what someone else writes and I am so profoundly moved that I promise to never write again.
Sometimes I am exactly the mom, wife, and friend I hope to be.
Sometimes I wonder why anyone spends a moment of time with me.
At all times I am working to remember
every beautiful image,
every moving piece written,
every touching engagement with someone,
is a victory.
And they are not all my personal victories.
And this does not diminish me.
Another's talent increases me, and any feeling other than that increase is a lie.
____________________________________________________________________________________
Comparison is death - no matter what side you come out on.
The world needs your contribution.
No limits. No comparisons. I root for your victory.
Your victory raises us all - and your victory is in the effort.
Never stop.

 

 

 

 

The note says: I love you Casee, From Grace.

Writing is powerful stuff. Grace learned to write and read in kindergarten. (Which is crazy by the way, I learned how to color and not cry all day in kindergarten. When did they figure out that kids were ready for this stuff at five?!? I digress.)

Grace learned to write in Kindergarten and all summer we have found little sticky notes in her room, stuck to her windows and walls. Sometimes we have even been the recipients of these little notes. I'm always struck a little dumb when I find them. It seems like all the wisdom in the world has been boiled down onto a little bitty sticky note. The ability to take what you feel and show the whole world. What an amazing power she has. At five.

When we find these notes, I imgaine how they came to be. I see her gathering up her supplies, and then hunched over the paper trying to decide what to write. Paper and pencil in hand, she sits poised to make her inside thoughts known to the outside world, the only question is what to say. I see her furrowed brow and pursed mouth. It's hard to decide sometimes. She gazes around her room until finally her eyes rest on Casey. Her heart swells up and she knows exactly what she wants to say.

Gracie & Casey, 2013

I imagine her smile as she decides what to write to her sweet and faithful friend. I see her thinking through how to spell each word. Confidently sounding out each one and making it fit on the oh so small paper. I'm sure when she is finished she has a huge grin. Then she lets Casey read it and they decide together where to keep it. I can just see them looking up at it smiling, and Gracie patiently reading it to her buddy.

When she sees that Greg or I have spotted her note, she has this look of pride that makes me melt. Her smile yells - I did that! And I know that feeling. I remember that feeling. I want to both preserve and protect that in her, and simultaneously revive and breath life back into my own feelings of accomplishment and pride.

Her simple expression of her feelings, her pride in writing it out all on her own, and her excitement at us having discovered this note of love - all these things make me thank God that I get to parent her and her brother. I'm so grateful for this amazing circle of life that reminds us of joy and laughter. They remind me to marvel not only at the world, but at my part in it.

It is so very easy to get bogged down in the mess of each day. Am I good enough? Do they like me? Should I have tried that? Why did I say that? I should be doing x instead of y. I'm wasting my time. I'm wasting my life.

None of that is true. It's all just liar's in our head holding us back and using our own fears against us. We are capable of anything. We can re-invent. We can improve. We can relax. We can enjoy. We can create.

Here's the recipe:

Gather your supplies - in this case, your pencil and your sticky note.

Sit down and think. Listen to your heart.

Create what is in your heart.

What will you create this week? Because the possibilities are without limit.

 

 

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