Saturday, November 9, 2013

Learning to speak.

I am terrified at the idea of speaking up and speaking out. I am afraid of the wounding woundedness that comes out of people when their defenses are triggered. I believe in speaking truth even when it is difficult. I believe in being gentle but honest, even with difficult feedback. But I don’t know how to strike that balance. I am afraid of the relational ruptures that may ensue - even with people with whom I have no relationships, and even though I hold the belief that relationships are stronger if rupture and repair has taken place. I don’t know how to navigate “truth in love” when there is little (or no) love. And when there is love, the fear of repercussions is doubled. I don’t know how to do this. So I guess at some point, I just just have to start trying.
That is what this season has been. I am stumblingly and falteringly speaking about the injustices that I encounter in this world, and I am reminding myself that the pain I feel when I screw up is not nearly as much as the pain felt by those who have inspired the words that are written on my heart. I try to remember that causing another person pain isn’t the worst possible thing I could do, and that people are capable of forgiveness and love even when you cause them pain. I don’t believe that yet. Not believing that makes everything else harder.
I have posted controversial things that I believe in passionately without trying to think through how all who see it might or might not be offended if they read it. I have calmly and un-emotionally been ready to give my defense of these postings, hoping to have rational conversations without triggering people’s defenses. It hasn’t really worked. Why is it so much harder to do this in real life than it is to do it as a therapist? If anyone can talk about something and make it palatable enough to not trigger the listener’s defense mechanisms, shouldn’t it be a therapist? I have publicly jumped in on threads to defend my friends who are being told to “stop playing the race card” and that “all is equal,” taking huge risks and being called a racist who is using my “advanced intelligence” to try and cover up my racist beliefs. And I want to quit talking. I want to quit jumping in. And I want to hold my beliefs folded under my hands and next to my heart, protected where no one can see them unless I trust them enough to take down my hands. But instead, I tell my friends the hurtful words and I ask if I am being blind to my own racism or if I am using intellectualization as a defense, and I try to listen and hear their words of grace to me. And then I try again.
In some recovery programs, they consider relapse to actually be a necessary part of recovery. What if in falling and failing, I am still moving forward? And what if this is true of all of us who look at our faults in the mirror and stubbornly work to address them and be better versions of our forever imperfect selves?
It may be failing, but it is movement. After all, the goal wasn’t to succeed or even to win anyone over. The goal was to speak boldly and authentically out of the passionate places in my heart, to speak my tears loudly and to recognize that they are not mine to withhold. My mistakes may be mistakes, but they are movement. And maybe that is enough for now.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

An Update on this Vulnerability Journey.

I really like being alone. I'm the kind of introvert that comes with social anxiety and shyness, even if you can't see it. After a long day, I can't wait to get home to be alone in my own space. It's like a deep breath out.

Maybe this is why I like to do things on my own. Maybe it's some deeper reaction against a fear of being dependent or needing someone (and the terror that they wouldn't come through or that I would be too much for them). Regardless, I have always kept the most difficult parts of my life to myself. I don't share when I need help. I don't say the things I think would put my weakness and neediness on display. I go home and sit alone. I think about all the people that I could call, who would probably feel honored for me to trust them with my tears. And then I cry alone anyway. This has always been my default, and I have always secretly believed that this was the right choice.

The people in my life that have been honest about their shortcomings are some of my favorite people in the world. I prize authenticity above almost everything else. And yet, I hold myself short of it out of fear. Fear of what, I'm still not sure. But I know it has something to do with the way I want others to see me, and what I want to believe about myself.

Why in the world am I writing this? Many of you have been with me since this journey of vulnerability started a few Lent seasons ago, on this blog. I've been experimenting since then with measured risks and honesty (even the kind that doesn't paint the version of myself that I want to believe is true).

Recently, some difficult things have happened in my life. In the grand scheme of things, probably not a big deal. But they were big enough that I literally couldn't handle them alone. I was forced with the choice of asking for help or facing consequences that might ruin my life. And this is what it took.

Honestly, I probably still wouldn't have had the guts to do it if a friend hadn't pulled it out of me. But that moment changed things. I began to take real risks with real people and be truly authentic in a way that scared the hell out of me. I was desperate and in a place of pain, and I didn't shield it for fear of what would happen. I was sure that I was going to sink, and I just needed to make sure I'd checked everywhere for a life raft.

And then the most amazing thing happened. People started helping me. Not in that "I'll pray for you and never talk to you about this again" way. But in the, "I'm going to call you every single day even if you get sick of me" way. In the "I can do something about this problem, and I'm going to" way. In the "You are not okay. Stop lying to yourself and to me" way. In the "I am going to take care of you for the next few moments and make you a bowl of soup" way. In the "Go ahead and talk about whatever you fear is annoying for the next 16 hours and I will still ask you follow up questions" way.

Suddenly, the world seems a little bit different to me. I'm trusting a little bit more. I'm feeling a little bit better about who I am. I'm a little less concerned about how much I might be annoying the people in my world.

I have long believed in the idea of community. But I guess I didn't really believe in it. This post is just to thank you, the people who have loved me, wooed me out of my fear-corners, unceasingly told me that I am worthy of space. My vulnerability journey is giving way to life lived in real community.

If you have loved me, thank you. If you share my fears, I can relate to your desire to just be Superperson and do it all alone. But if for a moment we can consider together that we might be missing out on something better - messier, but better - then can I tell you this? I've only just dipped my toe in, but the water isn't that bad. In fact, it feels pretty refreshing.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Why Alice in Wonderland Really Pissed Me Off.

Over the summer, I listened to an audio book of the old classic story, Alice in Wonderland.  Instead of being magically transformed into a childhood version of myself and caught up in the delight of the characters, I was startled by my reaction to the stories. I was disgusted. I felt a familiar feeling of nausea mixed with anger that usually means my “justice sensors” have been tripped. Confused, I began the process of asking myself why a children’s story would trigger such a strong reaction in me.
Then, I realized. Alice had been dropped into a world with different rules, norms, and cultures than those to which she was accustomed. The characters didn’t look the way that people in her world looked. The world didn’t operate according to the principles and values that she had been socialized to hold dear. Because of the nature of the fictional story, I kept expecting Alice to become fascinated with this other world and learn the customs and practices from those who were different than her. I expected her to be intrigued by those who had new insights and engaging cultural practices. I waited for her to ask questions and begin the process of understanding this new context.
But she didn’t. Instead, Alice chose to rigidly hold to her own framework and judge the creatures and worlds she encountered according to her own belief system. Only a child herself, she harshly judged a mother’s parenting. Dumbfounded and unwilling to consider the impact on the recipient of her words, she insisted to a mouse that he should not be offended that she prized her cat on her ability to catch rats. She hurt creatures when she was larger than life without the tiniest bit of regret for her actions. She yelled and disrupted a court process because it did not work within her expectations of the justice system.
Alice was a cross-cultural traveler who chose to hold everyone she met against her own cultural standards, despite the fact that they lived in a completely different world than she did. She was judgmental, disdainful, and unwilling to consider her own biases and blind spots. Sadly, not only did Alice cause harm by entering this other world, but she grievously missed out on all the magic, beauty, and experience that it had to offer. Alice is everything that I do not want to be, and everything that I fear that I am.
Without self-awareness and humble curiosity, we are all like Alice. Those of us who have lived comfortably in a broader culture that matches our individual culture (white, heterosexual, middle class, etc.) have especially strong Alice-like tendencies, for we have never been forced to consider the fact that “the way things are” could possibly be just “the way things are in our world.” Things have always worked a certain way for us, just like they had for little Alice, and we have a choice to make when we encounter something different. Shall I hold tightly to my views, lest my picture of the universal nature of my world be challenged? Or shall I acknowledge my views and open my hands to explore and experience the broader world around me?
Let us not be paternalistic, ethnocentric travelers like Alice. Let us live and love well, without demanding that others adjust to our way of doing things. Let us be flexible and willing to adapt, rather than demanding that others adapt to us. If we do not, we will miss out on the magic and wonder that these other worlds have to offer.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Understanding the Dynamics of Whiteness" as Quoted from Sue & Sue.

What is written below is a direct quote from the book Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice by Sue and Sue. I wanted to post it mostly because I frequently want to quote it (especially lately), and I have misplaced my book. So as long as I'm writing it down from the copy on Google Books, I thought I would share it with anyone who will read. It is deeply thought provoking, and I simply ask that you read it with an open mind. Some of it is targeted specifically at counselors and other helping professionals, but I believe it is fully relevant to all of us, including those who go on mission trips, volunteer, and serve in multicultural communities. It has had a profound effect on me and captures much of my own process in the development of my cultural identity. All italics have been added (by me) for emphasis.

Feel free to comment, but please keep in mind the feelings of those who may happen to read your words.

"Our analysis of the responses from both Whites and persons of color leads us to the inevitable conclusion that part of the problem of race relations (and by inference multicultural counseling and therapy) lies in the different worldviews of both groups. It goes without saying that the racial reality of Whites is radically different from that of people of color (D. W. Sue, 2010). Which group, however, has the more accurate assessment related to this topic? The answer seems to be contained in the following series of questions: If you want to understand oppression, should you ask the oppressor or the oppressed? If you want to learn about sexism, do you ask men or women? If you want to understand homophobia, do you ask straights or gays? If you want to learn about racism, do you ask Whites or persons of color? It appears that the most accurate assessment of bias comes not from those who enjoy the privilege of power, but from those who are most disempowered (Hanna, Talley, & Guindon, 2000; Neville, Worthington, & Spanierman, 2001). Taking this position, the following assumptions are made about the dynamics of Whiteness.

"First, it is clear that most Whites perceive themselves as unbiased individuals who do not harbor racist thoughts and feelings; they see themselves as working toward social justice and possessing a conscious desire to better the life circumstances of those less fortunate than they. Although admirable qualities, this self-image serves as a major barrier to recognizing and taking responsibility for admitting and dealing with one's own prejudices and biases. To admit to being racist, sexist, or homophobic requires people to recognize that the self-images they hold so dear are based on false notions of the self.

"Second, being a White person in this society means chronic exposure to ethnocentric monoculturalism as manifested in White supremacy (Zetzer, 2011). It is difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to avoid inheriting the racial biases, prejudices, misinformation, deficit portrayals, and stereotypes of their forebears (Cokley, 2006). To believe that one is somehow immune from inheriting such aspects of White supremacy is to be naive or to engage in self-deception. Such a statement is not intended to assail the integrity of Whites but to suggest that they also have been victimized. It is clear to us that no one was born wanting to be racist, sexist, or homophobic. Misinformation is not acquired by free choice but is imposed upon White people through a painful process of cultural conditioning. In general, lacking awareness of their biases and preconceived notions, counselors may function in a therapeutically ineffective manner.

"Third, if White helping professionals are ever able to become effective multicultural counselors or therapists, they must free themselves from the cultural conditioning of their past and move toward the development of a nonracist White identity. Unfortunately, many White Euro-Americans seldom consider what it means to be White in our society. Such a question is vexing to them because they seldom think of race as belonging to them - nor of the privileges that come their way by virtue of their white skin (Foster, 2011; Furman, 2011). Katz (1985) points out a major barrier blocking the process of White Euro-Americans investigating their own cultural identity and worldview:
     Because White culture is the dominant cultural norm in the United States, it acts as an invisible veil that limits many people from seeing it as a cultural system.... Often, it is easier for many Whites to identify and acknowledge the different cultures of minorities than accept their own racial identity.... The difficulty of accepting such a view is that White culture is omnipresent. It is so interwoven in the fabric of everyday living that Whites cannot step outside and see their beliefs, values, and behaviors as creating a distinct cultural group. (pp. 616-617)
As we witnessed in Chapter 6, the invisible veil allows for racial, gender, and sexual orientation microaggressions to be delivered outside the level of awareness of perpetrators (D. W. Sue, 2010). Ridley (1995) asserts that this invisible veil can be unintentionally manifested in therapy with harmful consequences to minortiy clients:
     Unintentional behavior is perhaps the most insidious form of racism. Unintentional racists are unaware of the harmful consequences of their behavior. They may be well-intentioned, and on the surface, their behavior may appear to be responsible. Because individuals, groups, or institutions that engage in unintentional racism do not wish to do harm, it is difficult to get them to see themselves as racists. They are more likely to deny their racism. (p. 38)

"The conclusion drawn from this understanding is that White counselors and therapists may be unintentional racists: (a) They are unaware of their biases, prejudices, and discriminatory behaviors; (b) they often perceive themselves as moral, good, and decent human beings and find it difficult to see themselves as racist; (c) they do not have a sense of what their Whiteness means to them; and (d) their therapeutic approaches to multicultural populations are likely to be more harmful (unintentionally) than helpful. These conclusions are often difficult for White helping professionals to accept because of the defensiveness and feelings of blame they are likely to engender. Nonetheless, we ask that White therapists and students not be turned off by the message and lessons of this chapter. We ask that you continue your multicultural journey in this chapter as we explore the question, 'What does it mean to be White?'" (p. 239-241).

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dear Trayvon Martin: A Letter of Apology for My Role in Your Death.

Dear Trayvon Martin,

I have wept so many tears over your tragic death, and I know they cannot begin to compare to the tears shed by those who knew and loved you for your 17 brief years. They knew what music you liked, what made you laugh, what you were passionate about, who you loved, and a million other things that made you uniquely you. I am heartbroken at the end of your young life. And I want to write this letter to apologize to you for my role in your death.

Yes, I had a role in your death. I am part of the problem.

I am part of the majority culture. I get called ma'am, am treated respectfully, and get warnings instead of tickets when policemen pull me over (which isn't often). People don't cross the sidewalk when I'm walking toward them. In fact, people look me in the eyes and smile at me because they don't see me as a threat. I'm assumed to be the most educated or most experienced candidate for most jobs for which I apply. I get the jobs for which I apply. I choose whether or not to examine my cultural identity. I choose whether to learn about other cultures or remain immersed in my own. Sometimes they don't take my ticket on the train because I look just like everyone else. I blend in, and when people notice me, they presume that I am kind and innocent. Part of being a minority in the United States, and especially being a young Black man, means that none of those things were true for you. And some of those privileges I have, if you had them, would have saved your life.

I have sat silently and watched my country belittle your humanity as a young Black man. I have listened to people label you as a problem child without considering a) whether or not it is true and b) whether or not the problems our society has created for you may have contributed to any of your alleged behaviors. They dismiss your humanity, and they dismiss your context. They do not understand the fear you must have felt when you were targeted as a criminal, whether or not you were one (which I whole-heartedly do not believe you were). They don't understand the necessity of fighting to save your life, which you knew was in danger, whether or not the man who killed you had yet brandished his gun. They don't think about the impact of being told by an entire society - explicitly and implicitly - that you are a criminal.

They minimize your experience by saying that everything is equal now and that racism no longer exists, demanding that you swallow the party line or be branded a criminal. If you do swallow the party line, you are considered an "exception" to your culture, which simultaneously robs you of your cultural heritage and demonizes everyone that looks like you. But somehow, that's not considered racist. After all, some of their best friends are Black. And everyone knows that if you have a Black friend, you can't be called a racist. Just like a misogynistic man can't hate women if he has a female friend. Oh wait...

But let me come back to the way that I have failed you, my brother in human dignity. My role is perhaps the worst of all, because I have remained silent. I know the truth. I know tiny pieces of the massive racism that still undergirds our country's policies and politics. I feel the bile in the back of my throat and the heat in my face and chest when people spurt out words about an entire group of people that "aren't racist" even though they would have at least thought twice about saying them if my skin weren't the same color as theirs. I hate when they make me a co-conspirator with their statements of hatred, assuming that I agree because I look like them.

But I have done nothing. I stew silently. Sometimes I literally run away from it. And this, this is why I must apologize to you. You deserved more than my dumb and fearful silence.

For whatever reason, God has chosen to make me White. When I asked friends in South Africa what I should do to even begin to address the atrocities that my people have committed, generational sins whose weight rests also upon my shoulders, they said that I must use my voice. My voice will reach ears that would not listen to their voices, who would brand them as "reverse racists." I have unmerited and undeserved privilege as a result of being born from English and Irish families in middle class America. I have failed to use that privilege to fight for you and the millions like you, Trayvon.

My good intentions don't matter. Yours didn't, either.

I have used my words too sparsely and too carefully. I am ashamed, and I am sorry. Can you ever forgive me? I didn't pull the trigger, but I function within a system that allows the trigger to be pulled every. single. day. against young men who don't deserve to die. If I am not working to change it, I am supporting it.

I will fight for you, Trayvon, and the beautiful faces of so many others like you, who have suffered the loss of their dignity and humanity. You bear the image of God just like I do. You are not the face of crime. You are the face of innocence. And I will fight for you.

Your sister in Christ,


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Re: Why You Should Show Off Your Imperfections.

I just read this article. You should, too, as this blog is basically a response to it.

Lately, I've been very aware of how un-free I am. My blog series admitting all kinds of things I don't want people to know about me is where I mark the "beginning" of this trend for me. Since then, I've been pushing against expectations and trying to be more authentic, trying to let go of the image that I have it all together, and attempting to release myself from the guilt of being less than perfect. The reality is, I'm not always okay. No, that's not true. The truer reality is that a LOT of the time, I'm not okay. Overall, I do feel like I've done a better-than-normal job of showing that recently.

The problem is that now I feel like a constant complainer instead of the sweet, quiet, look for the bright side girl that I used to be. I feel like when I let the facade drop, I allowed myself to see all the things that frustrate me and offend me and make me angry. I'm afraid that at my core, without the facade, I'm just a person that bitches about everything. No wonder I defended against honesty for so long. Who wants to be honest about their inner grossness? Certainly not me. I don't want to have to deal with it, and I don't want others to have to deal with it, either.

As gross as that feels, I think it's a healthy move for me. Maybe now it's just time for me to try and learn how to live with an honest awareness of the things that aren't okay and still remain engaged. It's easy to be discouraged and feel hopeless. But isn't an awareness of problems the first step to fighting for something better? If I am not dissatisfied, then I am not pushing for change in a world that so desperately needs it.

So in the spirit of honesty, let me tell you 10 ways that I am imperfect right now.

1) Everything I've eaten today has been relatively unhealthy. And I feel guilty about it.
2) I spent an hour in therapy this morning. I don't feel guilty about it, but I feel like I didn't use it well.
3) I'm disengaged in class, and I have not done an adequate amount of work for it. And I feel guilty about it.
4) My dirty clothes from the last three days or so are on my bathroom floor. I only feel guilty when people know.
5) I cried over the deaths I heard on the news, and then I moved on with my life. I feel guilty and like part of the problem.
6) My dishwasher has been clean and waiting to be unloaded for multiple days. I feel guilty about it.
7) I've been judgmental towards people who are made in the image of God. I feel sorry for it, and I feel stuck in how to change my attitude.
8) I've been annoyed by people who make my schedule trickier than it already is. I feel guilty about it.
9) I'm addicted to caffeine (need about four servings a day to avoid a migraine). I don't really feel guilty about it, but sometimes I feel like I "should" feel guilty about it.
10)I procrastinated something I could have done this morning. I slept instead. I feel guilty about it.

Will you free yourself to show your imperfections today? And if someone dares to show you their feared imperfections, will you be kind to their vulnerable hearts? I hope I will. And if I fail today, I will hope again tomorrow.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The darkness and the light.

This morning was one of those mornings that is exhausting in a really good way. The kind of exhausted where you are tired because you used your whole heart at something. You left yourself open and let an experience touch you, and you were stretched. Changed. Deepened. You're better for it, even though you're tired from it.

Last year was tough. But in the midst of the difficulties, there were always people and moments like this, where the tired is the good kind. Where the heaviness is still heavy, but the pain isn't sharp.

In recent weeks, I've been reminded of the darkness in the world. In recent years, I've been reminded of the darkness in me. I've been seeking and searching for answers, wondering how to trust fully in the light when sometimes all I see is darkness. When I hear stories that are too gruesome for movies and when I drive through communities that justice hasn't visited in a hundred years. When I've come to believe that hope is intrinsically painful because it reminds us that our present is less than some wish or longing or ideal.

The darkness is real. I can't wish it away or have faith strong enough to make it disappear. Because my faith isn't in the disappearing. It doesn't take faith to believe in a world full of nothing but happiness. It takes blindness. Real faith stands in the dark and sees - really sees - the crushing black weight of it all. It sees the grief and the pain. It asks the tough questions. It gets angry at injustice. It doesn't turn a blind eye to try and protect the reputation of its God. A God who needs us to be blind in order for him to be God is a pretty small god indeed.

I believe those things with my whole heart. I believe in asking the hard questions, in doing the wrestling, in taking the risk to open your eyes to the pain.

But sometimes I feel the weight of it all, and I see all the darkness, and I get stuck in the pain and the blackness. I entered in, and sometimes - most times - I don't know the way out.

This morning was one of those moments of clarity that don't come so very often. One of those moments you hold onto in all the days of darkness to come. One of those defining moments that seems really small, but persists in memory because it offered something to hold onto when you really, really needed something tangible.

It was a verse. One I've heard a thousand times. One only tangentially related to today's service. One that I heard only in my spirit, but one that slammed into my heart like it was literally bouncing around inside my chest. And one that offered me hope - the kind of hope that makes the pain feel like it has a purpose.

"The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:5

It hasn't put it out, extinguished it, overtaken it, overpowered it. They both exist, the light and the dark. But the light has not been overcome. The light hasn't wavered.

It doesn't explain away the darkness. It doesn't cast it out of every corner. The darkness is there. But so is the light. And the light offers hope. Real, abiding, soul-stabelizing hope.

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

I write this for myself, as a reminder for a day when I need reminding, a day when the dark feels like it's winning again. I write this to remind myself to open my eyes and heart not only to the darkness, but also to the light.