Waking Up to Injustice and the 7 Stages of Grief

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There is a wonderful song in the musical, Ragtime, when Mother discovers a newly born Negro baby buried alive in her garden. Her first shocked reaction is “What kind of woman would do such a thing?” Soon after, the police show up with the baby’s mother, Sarah, a washwoman from a neighboring house. Mother inquires what will happen to Sarah and the baby and learns that Sarah will likely be arrested for attempted murder and the baby will be sent to a place “for unfortunates like this.”

Up to this point in time, Mother has lived a rich and sheltered life, moving willingly within the patriarchal hierarchy of her world. Her husband has just left on an extended journey; and in this moment of independence, Mother does the unthinkable. She takes responsibility for Sarah and the baby boy, bringing them in to her home. Standing there face-to-face with Sarah and the child, Mother’s compassion outruns her judgment and horror.

Talking partly to herself and partly to her absent husband, Mother concludes the song with these powerful lines:

What kind of woman
Would do what I’ve done-
Open the door
to such chaos and pain!
You would have
Gently closed the door,
And gently turned the key,
And gently told me not to look,
For fear of what I’d see.
What kind of woman
Would that have made me?

That final line always catches me in the gut: “What kind of woman would that have made me?”

When the pain of the world landed on her doorstep, Mother chose to see it, chose to take responsibility for it, chose to let it enter into the recesses of her privileged and buffered life. She didn’t have to. No one would have blamed her or thought badly of her if she hadn’t. In fact, her husband, if present, would have insisted she look away, and her neighbors would have likely applauded her for protecting her home.

Watching from our cushy seats in the audience, we accept her compassion without much thought, failing to fully grasp her bravery. It’s just a story, right? She did “the right thing,” and now the musical can move forward.

But as I listen to this song,  I always find myself thinking: What would I have done? What kind of woman am I?

I feel like God has been dropping some of the world’s pain on my doorstep these past few years and I’ve been trying to make room in my heart and my life to let it in. But it is painful and difficult. I often feel split between 2 worlds: the privileged and buffered world I was born into and the foreign world of injustice, oppression, racism…

In the one world, I and my friends occupy ourselves with buying organic food, decorating (or upgrading) our homes, juggling all of our kids’ extra-curricular activities, etc. In the other, I see people struggling to buy any food at all or to find even indecent housing that they can afford. I see parents who are barely able to meet their children’s basic needs, much less to provide them with even the simplest enrichments or opportunities.

Many days, I am left feeling completely schizophrenic.

It would be so, so, so, so, so much easier to simply close the door. To thank God for my privileged world and spend my time enjoying it to the fullest.

And no one in my world would blame me. I might even be applauded for how well I embrace God’s blessings.

But the door has been opened and I have looked through it. What kind of person would I be to turn back now?

The truth is that I have woken up to the reality of injustice. I have seen, I have read and I have listened. As a result, the way I see the world has changed. I recognize my white privilege. I recognize my complicity in an unjust system. I have some dim awareness of the masses of people in the world who are suffering today–this very moment–in ways I can’t truly comprehend. And I acknowledge my responsibility before God to care…to really, truly, sacrificially care.

But I still live in the other world…the world that is asleep, the world that is blind.

And I find myself grieving.

I grieve for those who are suffering. I grieve because I feel powerless to help. I grieve over my own sin. I grieve over the sins of my church. I grieve the loss of my former (easier) worldview. I grieve because I feel alone.

This journey I’m on has practically turned me into a poster child for the so-called 7 steps of grief:

  1. I feel shock (How can there be so much evil and suffering?) and denial (Certainly the world isn’t that bad and It can’t really make much of a difference whether or not I care or sacrifice or show up).
  2. I feel pain (particularly when I internalize someone else’s suffering) and guilt (I should be doing more, caring more, sacrificing more. If only I wasn’t soooooo selfish. and, conversely: I shouldn’t expect so much from others. I shouldn’t let the world’s problems make me so sad/angry/distracted/judgemental).
  3. I feel anger (some days, so very much anger), both at others (Why doesn’t anyone else see all this suffering and injustice? Why doesn’t anyone care? Where is the church?) and at myself (I’m making things worse by getting so upset. I’m failing to be loving and show grace. Why can’t I get rid of all of this anger?)
  4. Sometimes, I find myself trying to ward off depression; and I virtually always feel alone in my perspective and in the depth of my feelings.
  5. Then, I have good seasons when I make an upward turn (I’m able to focus on the good I see happening around me and to feel more gratitude than sadness)…
  6. …and have a prosperous period of reconstruction.
  7. Some days, hope wins. I accept that the world is as it is and feel encouraged to believe that even a small and imperfect ray of light makes a dent in the darkness.

A year and a half ago when I started this blog, a part of me was desperately seeking out a community of other Christians who have “woken up to injustice” and who could help me navigate through this difficult journey. I have learned that the blogosphere cannot meet this need (although, bless you Agent X for being the big exception).

And so, I faultingly plod on.

And I continue to share my experience on this blog both as a catharsis and with the hope that someone else along the way will be encouraged. I see you, fellow sojourner. I feel it all, too.

 

 

Killer Clowns

Last month, a number of my El Crucero girls were all a-twitter about some threats of “killer clown” attacks they had been hearing (and were repeating). According to word of mouth, these killer clowns were going to wreak havoc at a local school. They were also, supposedly, going to be out on Halloween night, killing at random.

My girls believed these stories and were scared. I firmly told them on several occasions that there is no such thing as killer clowns–they are a myth, an urban legend meant to scare people. “There is nothing to fear,” I confidently told them.

And of course, Halloween came and went with no killer clown episodes whatsoever.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon when I arrived at homework help and two of my girls greeted me with the question, “Did you hear who won?”

“Yes, I heard.”

“Now we are going to have to move to Mexico.”

“But your mom was born here, wasn’t she?” I ask.

“Yes, but our dad was wasn’t. And —–‘s family is from Guatemala. They are going to be sent away.”

I asked the girls to remember how worried they had been about the killer clowns.

“You were worried for nothing, weren’t you? Don’t be afraid. Just because someone says something doesn’t make it true. One person doesn’t have the power to say something and have it magically happen.”

I full-well know that deportation is not, nor has it ever been, an impossibility for members of these children’s families, but I don’t want them to be consumed with worry about all the what-ifs. Mostly, I want them to know that I have hope that all will be okay.

“Let’s pray for your dad,” I say and they nod in happy agreement.

Then this morning, a friend sent me this picture of a letter that was handed to a child at a local charter school–the same charter school that SIX of my El Crucero middle school girls attend.

 

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I don’t think I have to express how horrified I am by this letter.

Friends, if the church won’t take a stand against hate and fight for sake of those who have no power to fight for themselves, then who will?

This morning,  I’m praying. I’m praying that what I’ve told my girls is true. I pray that they are safe and I pray that their families are safe; because after reading this note, I’m beginning to worry that maybe killer clowns are real.


I think you’ll find that virtually no one who holds hands with the poor and downtrodden feels happy about the outcome of this election.

My blogosphere is full of important posts this week. One post that expresses much of my feelings/thoughts is by Stephanie–a young woman who grew up as a missionary kid in South Africa and now lives in Texas: To my friends who are relieved today.

And here’s a heart-exposing post from an African American brother: Longer Still (Post Election Reflections of a Black Man amongst the Evangelicals)

Another is written by a blogger who lives in the Portland area among refugees: Day 8 and Day 9.

And from my blogger buddy who often sleeps out in the cold with the homeless and has a swinging door of foster children passing through his house these days: You Heard it Here First Folx!

The truth is that Jesus-followers are not limited to the either/or’s of our world and culture. Jesus always offers a third way–a way of humility, compassion and integrity. I long for the church to exert its energy, not on culture wars, but on finding and following that third way. Marantha!

Seeds of Beauty

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Friday evening, I went to the funeral visitation for the father of one of my El Crucero girls. Two friends and I had already visited this child’s grandmother earlier in the week, where we had sat, drinking the cold water we had been handed and listening (via translation) to the grandmother’s grief. Her husband had passed away only 4 short months ago, and now her son, the baby of her 7 grown children–was gone, too.

It is too much.

Our young friend, the daughter of the deceased, wasn’t there. We don’t see her until we get to the funeral home. When we arrive, she is surrounded by cousins. Her little brother is coloring and seems unconcerned by the weight of the event. All of the children are in the front room of the funeral home, avoiding the specter of death in the room behind them. I avoid it, too, staying with the children, meeting the ones who are new to me, talking with a couple of their mothers.

It is the most somber visitation I have ever attended. I also come from a large family and have attended many viewings. They have always been one part tears and one part laughter. This visitation is missing the laughter.

This is our 3rd child to lose a father this year –2 to death and 1 to deportation.

Somehow that doesn’t seem normal to my experience. Elementary school and middle school children shouldn’t lose their parents on such frequency.

I often forget that there are aspects of my El Crucero children’s lives that are outside of my experience. The more time I spend with them, the more I forget. I see their joy and their squabbles. I hear their chatter about school and parents and dreams, and it all seems so normal and predictable. . .

Until I get a jolting reminder that many of my children deal with circumstances that should never be considered normal:

A child will ask for an extra bag of chips at the end of church on Sunday and tell me that our evening snack is the first food she’s had all day. Another child will privately tell us about the man who has been arrested because he did something to her he shouldn’t have. At homework help, a conversation about crushes will morph into an enumeration of which of our 7th-grade boys smoke pot.

Somehow, I always feel blindsided by these proofs of what is wrong with our world. Every time.

But I’m also perpetually discovering the beauty of loving well in hard places. Wherever pain and loss and lack is present, we have an opportunity to plant a seed of beauty. . . a seed of grace, a seed of hope, a seed of community.

This week my heart is heavy for a beautiful family’s loss, but it is also encouraged by the ways I’ve seen our El Crucero community rally to be a physical expression of Jesus to this family–through significant donations to the burial fund and a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, yes; but most especially through presence and connection.

I am increasingly realizing that every ugly, scary, painful situation around us is an opportunity to plant a seed of beauty. To stand in solidarity. To offer what help we have to give–a meal, a ride, a hug, a smile, a listening ear, a sincere prayer….

Of course, it is so much easier not to reach out into someone else’s pain, but these seeds can only be planted by pulling up our sleeves and getting down into the dirt. Being present in a dark place hurts. But choosing to do so out of love for another is a holy experience. Such choices connect us to each other and to God.

Be a seed planter.