Losing the Food Fight

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I’m accustomed to defeat when it comes to the food fight. My mom, a skilled and stubborn general (Taurus, born three days after and 35 years before me) was singularly gifted and creative in her many victories. At 3 I would sit resolute at the table when all the sugar disappeared from the frosted corn-flakes, no longer willing to eat the cereal, she would decree, that I was ‘unable to leave the table until the bowl was empty, milk drunken’. Her lieutenants and captain, my older sister and brother would foray into the battle. “You better hurry, it tastes worse when the milk makes it soggy” – Neither of them share the taurus heritage with I or Mother Dear. Respite would come from surprising places, when our mother agreed to taste the cereal when she used the powdered milk and agreed it was distasteful enough to throw away. Or, when after dinner, after refusing to eat certain items I didn’t like (I did try), we would compromise that if I drank v8 vegetable juice I could leave(still feel traumatized when I see anything V8), or if I ate 20 forkfuls, or when the lieutenant and captain would help me with my meted punishment of ‘picking up all the food from the carpet floor’, so that I could leave the table and then play with them. One of my most memorable defeats landed me the punishment of washing the dishes by myself, this happened when I was around 4. I stood on the stool that was needed for me to reach the sink and cried, mournfully. The general, bustled about, cleaning, and, as resolute in her decree as I in my defiance. When night fell and I realized it made no difference if I cried standing on the stool or sitting on the stool, I sat down and dozed in my solitary prison, until my dad (Capricorn) came home from work and pleaded my release from the general, that I was too young to serve out my sentence, and carried my exhausted form upstairs to sleep. A few days after this, the general employed her most successful strategy, which ended permanently the food war, which was, to have me help cook the meal. She gave me all the instructions, and I cooked the rice,…though I mixed up ‘1/4 teaspoon’ and ‘1/4 tablespoon’ of salt and valiantly the army ate my contribution; the capricorn most encouragingly. The general said it was too salty, and threw it out, after all initially tasted it, but the pattern was set. Going or calling the general to determine what to cook for dinner for the family, it still amazes me how she has every recipe in her head and how successful the whole cooking by verbal instructions, has worked out since that time.

Ours was the family of 6 but there were always unexpected guests and always leftovers. Every thanksgiving/Christmas I re-unite with this clan of 6 and it quickly multiplies to 15 20 + as cousins and aunts and grandparents etc. pop by with the whole family. I’m used to cooking for 10 at every meal, I intimately understand the horror in the ‘water to wine’ story when they run out of wine and similarly have learned from my culture, you never run out of food, and you cook for the whole family, and potentially a few unexpected guests. I enjoy it, the cooking that is, thinking of the menu, the mix flavors, At one point, to raise money, I approached the general to outsource family lunches, and began selling my gourmet lunches in exchange for my sibling’s lunch money. My most loyal customer, my dad, would laugh off my non-subtle hints that there is no such thing as a ‘tab’, and my business folded due to lack of liquidity. I am the type of chef/baker that can make up my own cake recipes, and have the general’s own creativity and intuition for flavors and cohesion in meals. I say this without modesty to convey I am a good cook, I suffer from no lack of confidence in my skills, and have cooked long enough, that I’m quick, and adept at it. It makes this latest food fight all the more baffling…

The thought of cooking and eating fills me with depression.

Well let me clarify, the thought of cooking for myself, and eating a meal I cooked for myself, fills me with a singular dread and sadness that I first felt that day standing crying on the kitchen stool, not wanting to wash the dishes. I still have immense joy when I think of cooking for others and eating with others. I even do fine when I got out and eat by myself. But there is something different about cooking for myself and eating, knowing I have only myself in mind, that manages to destroy my usual ‘adapt to American culture’ mentality and long for home. Are there exceptions…sometimes… I often need to prime the pump and psych myself up, but once I get started, the joy of cooking propels me to a completed meal, but that spirit of individual and lonely survival that began the food creation process, has at times meant, the meal spoils unappealingly in the fridge. For a while, I tried to guilt myself into consumptions…”waste not want not” but then I got food poisoning from eating food I suspected had passed its prime, and the medical costs incurred, terrible nights before and after the ER visit, completely took the wind out of the sails of that ship. At the last moment, (after a day or two of skipping meals), there is a sort of self preservation that I get resigned to, and might eat a meal ‘out’ or try something exceedingly quick and plain (rice). I sort of just ignore the awareness that I’m not eating balanced meals etc. Sadly this for me is a purely psychological battle as my body often feels apathetic either way…In high school I was reading Callous On My Soul, Dick Gregory, and was amazed at his hunger strikes and wondering if I would be willing to forsake food for a worthy cause. More experimentally than as an activist, I went on my own hunger strike for a week. It was the height of lacrosse season and was beyond exceedingly hard, but strangely in that time, I sort of trained my body to ignore signals of hunger and emerged with a need to consciously generate a desire for food. I do find myself longing for food in random moments…but it is more a longing for the tastes and specific flavors on my mouth in the same way one longs for their nails to be painted a deep dark blue. Gluttonously? Unnecessarily? more of a ‘want’ than a need? For me a least these thoughts are processed exactly in my mind..”hmm I really want my nails to be dark blue….do I have nail polish?, do I want to go get some?…Do I have time?…nah I shouldn’t, I need to go meet X in a few minutes.”- “Wow I really want a tamale…Ugh I don’t feel like making tamales, where could I get it? hmm I did find $5 in my jeans, that’s like free money…Actually I should ‘t spend money anyway, It’s not like I’m particularly hungry and it makes no sense to waste gas, driving to FoodMax to find the Tamelera, I’ll probably eat later”. The occasions that I fast, hunger does seem to be felt, and occasionally, if I have habits of eating at set times over a long period of time, I feel ‘hunger pangs’ might be returning to my life…But my schedule has not been that regular since years before high school and there is nothing that I do consistently week to week, day to day, so meals have become  a sort of afterthought at the end of the day, realizing I was so busy I forgot to eat, or an, ‘in the course of life’, ‘in the course of meeting with someone’, ‘at a gathering when there is food’, or…uniquely, ‘greatly anticipated as an extension of hospitality’.

I’m come to realize my fight with food is a translation of the clash of cultures, and an anti-american revolution of dependence. As I tried to recount, I had never cooked, or ever heard of anyone cooking in my family, in my culture, just for themselves. This is as unheard of as playing Chess by yourself..? Why play at all? Surely a lose-lose situation. Food is communal, the act of preparing food – hospitality, which requires a recipient differentiated from the host. “Life isn’t meant to be lived alone but in community”. Why would you eat alone, live alone, do life alone, when we were created for one another…or if you don’t believe this…perhaps you’d agree it’s more enjoyable with others? I realized that I had family to share life(meals) with growing up, had peers to share life(meals) with in college and ,now,  am in the stage of life that I’m not too busy for every meal, I’m at a loss at the expectation to do life(meals) on my own. (again…psychological b/c I clearly all my life have had the capacity to make the meals). This is not to say I don’t live with others, even other Christians…but increasingly our life has more resembled the Westernized Christianity picture than the Acts 2 vision that drew me to Christ. “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,” Acts 2:46. My peers these days, only share meals at restaurants…if one isn’t working insane hours at a SV startup and has the money to spend ‘out’ you’re ‘left out’ of the fundamental fellowship. We’ve substituted Acts 2 for this practice, and others…instead of everything in common and needs being met as they arise, we have neatly labeled containers in a fridge and food that spoils b/c it is impossible for one person to use it  by the sell by date. In a rare moment of quiet the other day I was remembering a friend’s teasing of a season of life when I ate yogurt and granola for a couple of months. I was in grad school then, and similarly experiencing the dread of an inability to bring myself to cook knowing I would share the food with no one. In that season like the one I’m fast approaching, I couldn’t afford to “eat out” really at all, or with any regularity.

This hardly gives fair treatment to my underlying thoughts that American’s on the whole eat far too much and it isn’t necessarily needed to have more than one meal a day. This is more acknowledging that even the one meal, increasingly proves too challenging for me. The first step of recovery, is confession and I take comfort that having more accurately diagnosed my problem (not laziness as I’ve long suspected, but a weird depression at how disconnected and isolated my life is, a homesickness of sorts). I’ve come up with a few possible solutions…

a) make more money, be able to eat out. [not going to happen, there literally is no extra time in my schedule]

b) move home/in with family [I love my community in cali]

c) invite people to join me in a practice of Acts 2 values, meal rotation etc. [will probably only work for a few dinners/wk and will be complicated]

d) find a way to plan out my meal locations to be in communal spaces, local parks, open cafeterias [not sure if this will actually satisfy my longing for communal involvement in the food process, will also be tricky, but maybe will work for lunches?]

e) resurrect disciplines of regularly inviting friends over for a meal [most potential here, though tricky when I return to school]

f) stockpile on yogurt and granola [every engineer needs a brute force solution]

g) I don’t know…Externally process on blog and solicit other suggestions!

From 25 to 1500

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I am a regular citizen…except I’m black, and although privileged I’m caught up in the same webs of poverty and injustice that so many Black people in this country are caught up in. I currently have a suspended license. How you wonder? Well, to be honest, I wonder too! I’m a typical person; I get the occasional speeding ticket and parking ticket when the meter runs out 15 minutes till it’s free. I’ve never DUI’d or anything like that. In fact I’m a recent driver as of the last 4 years. Prior to then I was a proud Washingtonian and envisioning living my life in cities with decent public transit, and never needing to drive. I wish I had clung more closely to that vision. Except California public transit… sucks, and it is hard to get decent work such that you do not need to rely on a car. In truth the costs of car ownership have been astounding. There is the car itself, and insurance, the endless fees and renewals and not to mention all the time drain and bureaucracy involved with anything dmv, or courts related. Most recently I received a notice that my license was suspended for two violations I had no recollections of (these apparently happened years ago…no lie). I found out for the first, I actually had addressed it, and submitted this to the court and eventually it was cleared under amnesty, the other, I honestly can’t remember, but apparently it was a “no proof of insurance” and could have been cleared by showing my insurance and paying a $25 fine, but now is in collections and immutable. I always have insurance, and since this apparently happened in July (I pay for the insurance for the whole year in January and always keep it in my car) I definitely had insurance then. I also found records that I had been to the DMV several times, in the months after this ‘violation’ allegedly occurred (I no longer believe this even occurred) and never saw anything about this violation on my dmv records (obviously could have been cleared then if I had). I was even willing to accept that by some fluke of amazing circumstance, I got this violation and lost it/forgot about it/thought I had addressed it and hadn’t… etc. and accept that I must pay for my foolish mistake…except I have a hard time understanding how something that could have been cleared up with a $25 charge and display of proof…has now turned into something that costs me $1500 and is immutable. How is this justice? This is more than double what my insurance costs in a year. Is the desire for drivers even to be insured? Or just forsake driving? What is the point of this sort of punitive kicking of the folks that are already down? What does it serve? Why does our justice system work this way?

My car was stolen a year or so ago and the police, instead of calling me to say yes.. We found your reported stolen car…come move it…since the battery is stolen and most of the stuff inside of it…immediately call a tow company and therefore I need to pay $700 dollars to get my car out of the tow lot. When I called the tow company, (after the police called me to say they had found my car and it is now at the tow lot), they told me the fee, and that at it increased by $60 for every day it stays on the lot…what? Of no fault of my own…(I guess I could be faulted for not sleeping in the car and fighting off the thief with my bare hands…) I’m punished for being robbed. What is the point of having AAA if I’m denied the right to have my stolen car towed for the price I’ve already paid? This happens all the time…fees upon fees upon useless fees, victimization of victims that have already been victimized.

The court admitted that the notices of this ‘violation’ were all returned, sender not at the address, unable to forward… Amazing that they couldn’t find an address for me, yet the DMV has always been able to find my address to let me know that I need to renew my vehicle registration. Why is it that the DMV never has trouble finding me, but the court in the same time period couldn’t find me? What fees can be added to turn $25 into $1500? What is the reasonable explanation for this? There are so many people for whom this is a death sentence, they are already on the edge… in poverty, they already can’t or can barely afford to live in this country, and our legal system in every form, finds multiple ways to continually kick them while they are down.

I understand their despair. I understand why in some countries, fed up with the endless cycles of poverty and being kicked punitively and egregiously by the government, synonymous with ‘the Rich’ & the folks in power, that citizen feel they have nothing to lose. The responses are horrific – some suicide, some suicide and take others with them, some target the government, almost all become more anarchist. I understand the vindictive desire to retaliate, I see how the injustice of it all can be manipulated can be distorted into hateful aggression. But I also see how it can be redemptive…or better yet, redeemed…

I want to be a computer programmer particularly for social good, yet today… honestly I feel vindictive. My redeemed desire, is that is will be a pleasure to program, to develop applications to help the disenfranchised and the poor avoid paying money unnecessarily to the courts. I want applications that serve, not just line other’s pockets. I want a government that isn’t bankrolled by extorting money from the poor. This desire “to serve” instead of “line my pockets” is why this fee is a big deal for me…I do so much service and spend hardly enough time making money to support myself, certainly not enough to drop $1500 for a citation I can’t remember ever receiving. There must be a better way, there must be a better system, there must be justice…I hope. Whether mass transit that actually works, or social justice apps that work. I WILL find it; I WILL make it, I WILL be a part of it.

I was thinking today of what it means to be black in America, yet also identify as American: the history of slavery, the morphing of slavery laws to black codes, and vagrancy laws and literacy tests, and prisoner plantation lease programs, and Jim Crow, to the prison industrial complex, and gentrification, and school to prison pipeline, and police brutality, and Black in media representation and Black culture extraction and America’s deep history of making its wealth off of people like myself. I was remembering that the other day I was explaining to a friend why I don’t think Jesus’ words and teachings lead to pacifism, and how I see the God of the old testament and Jesus are indeed the same… I was thinking of the pacifists, and the war protestors, and the many reasons that people burned their draft cards. I hear the grain of truth in Muhammad Ali’s gripping words about the war and racism. Yet far more clearly the words of Christ to turn the other cheek, to love my neighbor as myself, to wrestle not against flesh and blood but in the spiritual realm, to stand firm, after having done all I could… I was thinking, of the Tuskegee Airmen, of the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment of the fact that Black people have fought in every single American War…what did Jesse say? “There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There is no tax they haven’t leveed against us – and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so… free.”

I’ve been thinking of freedom, of Christ’s return and of what his kingdom drawing near to you, to us, to me, looks like.

It feels like letting evil triumph to pay this fee and ‘get my license reinstated’, yet I know otherwise this travesty of justice will not stop until it takes all my freedom (starting with economic)… Yes, I don’t think there is a way for me to avoid paying the $1500 dollars…and in this screwed up world (/state)…for at least some time, I need a car… But do know America…as I pay it, I’m burning my draft card. Not for pacifism, but to wage a different war. And do know court system, criminal justice system, etc., I’m putting you on notice. You WILL become more just, you WILL serve the people, you WILL stop oppressing the poor and disenfranchising the vulnerable, OR you WILL be destroyed.

Viva la revolucion.

Critical Christianity

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On this Martin Luther King day, I break my blog silence (long coming) to share some of my inner reflections on what I’ve observed in: American.Circles.Christian. There is sadly a rise in what I’ve started to call in my head “Critical Christianity”. This is what it means:

Critical Christianity – is the all too familiar and dreaded experience of leaders in debrief meetings or brainstorms, when everyone wants to point out what went wrong, what they don’t like or agree with, and vague injunctions that better could be done…yet at the same time offer no concrete steps, or God forbid offer themselves up to lead/do anything.

Critical Christianity – is the age old “Back when Pastor Bobby was around we did things like this” or “Your mother will roll in her grave if she could see you now” or a variety of other biased speaking for the dead (not an Orson Scott Card reference) instead of speaking for the living (yourself).

Critical Christianity – is the rampant spirit in our nations debates about race, #BlackLivesMatter, gender, immigration, gun control, social class & economic status that causes many to try to verbally remove the ‘apparent’ plank from their brothers eye while vigorously denying that they have any splinters in their eye at all!

Critical Christianity – shockingly, blames victims for not coping ‘well enough’, ‘quickly enough’ or the one size fits all ‘how we would like to see you cope’ with conditions that they now find themselves in, when other Christians but somehow never the ‘critical christian’ caused these situations either directly, or by supporting oppression and broken systems, often by inaction.

Critical Christianity – Is the consistent refusal to hear the story that others are telling, or their life, or experiences, and simply let it stand on it’s own, without seeking to invalidate it with statistics, unrelated stories and exceptions.**

Critical Christianity – likely to disagree with all activism, or always react to demonstrations, with a word, that it is “untimely”, “ineffective”, “unnecessary” and “not a good place to start”.

Might you be a ‘critical christian’? Let me give a tangible example.

On January 11th I shared on my facebook wall a post of an article entitled “This is an American disaster” It was about the water in Flint, Michigan where for 18months! 18. months. Thousands of children have been drinking toxic, contaminated water while the city governor/government refused to treat the water; A paltry cost to do so. And apparently ignored complaints for the entire duration to do something about this.

Let me say again 18months. 18. Lead poisoning for Flint, 18 months.

Flint has a population of ~100,000 , is poor and has a demographic of ~56% black, ~37% white, ~4% Latino. I posted the article with a comment(rare for me), something to the effect that ‘this isn’t just a disaster it is a crime’. This post got 6 likes (total). A picture I had posted 4 days earlier on the same had gotten 3 likes. The ‘critical christian’ was largely silent…

When was the ‘critical christian’ loud? Not on the 15th of January when the governor asked Obama to declare a federal emergency in Flint and deliver 96million dollars in disaster relief. Certainly not when the problem could have been avoided for $100 a day! Not at all the whole 18 months prior,

but today.

When protestors shut down westbound traffic on the bay bridge.

And THEN the facebook messages pour in! ‘Critical Christians’ in their element. The vast majority of ‘critical christians’ couldn’t decode the ‘cryptic message’ “Black Health Matters”. Now…to be sure, they mean more than Flint (Oakland, S.F., affordable housing, divestments, etc) but most seeing the sign, stuck in traffic, had no idea of any issues of health injustice in the black community. I read the comments section (a scary proposal) and let me just say, in the comments sections I find it impossible to distinguish the ‘critical christian’ from the ‘non-christian’…this is what I read: “these actions do more harm than good”, “ineffective”, “sickening”, “annoying”,”stupidest thing” , and my favorite “there is a time and place”. I digress and won’t share the profanity filled comments also posted. For the ‘critical christian’ or ‘non-christian’ that might have posted these…may I be so bold as to ask a few questions of your criticisms?

Q: ‘these actions do more harm than good’ – Is this really true? Who was harmed? The protestors were certainly all arrested, financially harmful,possibly physically harmful, and definitely socially harmful. Were there other harms? I think the harm referred to is the person in traffic, impossibly inconvenienced, has been ‘so wounded’ by this egregious sin against them (1.5 hours) that they will now vow to never support the cause for which the protest was carried out. Injustice in the areas of health for black people. Part of me wonders two things 1. Would you have ever been a champion for this cause? (Clearly you haven’t heard anything about it till now…and if you did, were content to ignore it this long). I say this as, none of these commenters ever say anything about ‘how they support the cause in another way, and a different approach that they HAVE tried'(emphasis definitely needed). Let’s be honest, you either knew and didn’t care, or now that you know, you still don’t care. My second thing 2. Would this posture of holding onto this hurt, grudge, pain and not forgiving the protesters be like Christ? This protest, certainly inconvenient, has brought more attention to this issue than it had previously, and for every ‘mad person’ stuck in traffic, someone is asking ‘what was it all about?’ and moving from ignorance to knowledge. You know, I’ve experienced inefficiency, this would be that one time I sliced into my hand and waited far longer than 1.5 hours in the emergency room to be seen; Or just ask the residents of Flint. 18 months, or even this morning when I was in tears for the first two hours of my day for the residents of Flint, and the kids that will likely have messed up brains and developmental diabilities b/c some govenor valued his time, efficiency and money over their very lives. 18 months; And we are angry about 1.5 hours. To the critic that says ‘these actions do more harm than good’ I must say, own your OWN actions. Say rightly “I will do more harm than good, because I’m annoyed, I’m inconvenienced, and I still don’t care”

Q:’sickening’ – really? This sickens you, but deplorable health conditions do not? This sickens you so much that you post on facebook about it, but learning that ten of thousands of city resident must drink lead poisoned water leaves you silent and apparently not sick. This sickens you? I wonder how sick the people are that are experiencing these health injustices? For them..sick to the point of death! Are you that sick by a bridge protest? How I long for Americans to be sick of our economic system and inequality and corruption. To be sick of elected officials covering up scandals, or ignoring citizens cries for justice. To be less sickened by their time interrupted, and more sickened by the lives constantly interrupted and disrupted by lack of policies or abusive policies, policemen, politicians, people. Isaiah 10:1-3 Woe to those who enact evil statutes And to those who constantly record unjust decisions, So as to deprive the needy of justice And rob the poor of My people of their rights, So that widows may be their spoil And that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment, And in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your wealth?

Q:”There is a time and place” – ? no words. When exactly is a good time, for injustice to end? Isn’t the answer always now? Ironic really, on Martin Luther King day, how many inadvertently dare to utter the exact same words he was told while in a Birmingham Jail. Lots of progress made(very sarcastic). Really, I have nothing. Please just read his letter from a Birmingham Jail.

You know…I often think of this quick one liner passage of scripture when I think of the ‘critical christian’. There is this interesting thing that happens in Luke’s & Mark’s gospels in Luke 9:49, 50; Mark 9:38-40.

49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

The disciples come across somebody else casting out demons in Jesus name and try to stop them from doing so. The logic somewhat makes sense, they think that they have the exclusive claim to discipleship and the work of the kingdom. They ‘know how it should be done’ and the people doing the work…’don’t look like the, or sound like them, in fact are not ‘one of them’ and likely weren’t doing it the way they would. I like that it is the ‘hothead’ John that brings this to Jesus. Surprising to me, for most of my life until recently, is that Jesus doesn’t congratulate John on a job well done, but corrects him, to cease and desist with his ‘exclusive claim to truth’, ‘hateration’,’hating’, ‘critiquing’, ‘policing’? Choose whatever word you think fits. I notice the problem isn’t that the person doesn’t follow Jesus it’s that they “don’t follow with us”

May I submit that most of the ‘Critical Christian’s’ complaints amount to just this…you don’t follow Jesus the way I do. Though, you may be following him by demanding justice, by loving your neighbor as yourself, by looking out for not only your own interests, but also the interests of others, and in humility counting others more significant than yourself…you don’t follow Jesus the way I do. Brothers & sisters can we stop dissuading others to the cause of justice? And please….lets get out and do the work of the kingdom and declare that title of a book that sits on my shelf begging to be read “All Truth is God’s Truth”.

Every so often someone asks me what time period I would like to live in? if I could time travel. (I know, I just did a concept jump). This is a bad question to ask a black woman such as myself because much of History is a ‘bad time’ for me to live in. I answer that I’m not interested in traveling back in time but secretly I wonder what would it be like to live in another era? I truly wrestle with thinking of a time period when there were people agitating for justice while others were saying ‘wait’, ‘not now’, ‘too risky’ and wondering if I would be one of these whispering dissenters that history has now shown to be shameful, or would I be someone risking it all for the cause of Christ? I live aware that the dissenters are as vocal today as they were ‘then’ whenever then is, and sadly the issues don’t seem to change. To accept or not to except refugees from a holocaust/genocide in their country. To protest or not to protest? I’m secretly terrified of living a life of safety, comfort, and caution, and hearing from Jesus on the last of days “I don’t know you, get away from me you apathetic! (my substitute for his word evildoer: defined here to mean someone who upholds evil systems(which do evil) by inaction and maintaining the status quo)”. I wonder what he might say to the fictional ‘critical christian’ I’ve created in my head?

I think the ‘critical christian’ is waiting for a leader, someone that will be perfect and hit all the tiny check boxes: republican, pro-life, not too loud, not disruptive, magically can right our violent and repressive systems after 300 hundred more years of moving so slow towards justice we won’t even realize we were going there. I apologize, it was a low blow to criticize imperfect humans for wanting a perfect human leader. Maybe we can settle for a perfect God, and be led by imperfect people? Better yet….not a vague imperfect person…YOU. YOU lead us! YOU don’t like the way #BlackLivesMatter protests, good point, when are YOU going to protest the ‘right way’? The bridge shut down was inconvenient? OK YOU schedule a protest that is convenient for YOU, but inevitably inconvenient for somebody else, and know what?, those people that YOU are currently criticizing will show up to join YOU…In fact if YOU preach a message of hope like Dr. King, they might completely give up their ‘ineffective’ protest in the face of your soon to be called ‘ineffective’ one and perhaps some time after YOU turn 35 and before YOU turn 39, if YOU are as ‘ineffective’ as Dr. King, there might be a faint gleam of progress. But rest assured, if your life is to indeed go the route of Dr. King, YOU will know that YOU were a champion for justice, that YOU kept good company with the suffering Christ and that YOU didn’t just sit around making mudpies with the ‘Critical Christian’. Wow, if we would stop our critiques and move into action…why that sounds like a holiday at sea! Won’t YOU, join me?

 

**[a brief aside, please focus on one thing at a time, every protest is not about ‘black on black crime’, those protests do happen…you are strangely silent when they do, and when any other protests happens, you want to shout about it from the rooftops. This makes no sense.]

China 你好

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Hello China!

I arrived yesterday night (or today night depending on your timezone) PTL! I”m grateful for all the people and things that came in place to make my journey successful! I wanted to give a brief update thus far:

Travel: The plane ride (direct flight from SJC to PEK) was great. To my body it felt like 6 hours rather than the 12 it took. I chatted with a fellow passenger, watched a few movies and took a nap 2 hours before we landed. It was comfortable and quick. I also made it safely to my lodging for my first few days, a friend’s, friend’s apartment. I took a taxi there which brings me to the next point of

Language: I’m immensely grateful for the language program this summer, which meant that I understood 40% of the Mandarin used on the plane and felt comfortable hopping into a taxi at the airport. The driver sucessfuly navigated me to my destination, with a small confirm of the address via writing. And my attempts at small talk were not totally dismal (only a few sentences where we both agreed we didnt understand and gave up). Aside from this, I’m doing well with procuring food in Mandarin.

Food: 我喜欢中国菜 I enjoy Chinese food! And especially the price! This morning I got up to explore my area a little and go to the atm, and got 饺子(dumplings), a red bean filled thing, and a vegeable filled thing, and mangosteen all for less than $2. My meal also with my host last night was tons of delicious inexpensive food! I’m writing this update as I try to digest breakfast and am 吃不下 so full I can’t eat more.

Technology:  On the whole technology has worked well. I brought w\me an ipad and can use wifi and its keyboard to type longer updates. I have data (tmobile) via my US cell phone plan. My BOA card is also supposed to work here, but that has not panned out as of yet, I’ll try to resolve this today during business hours. Also, my fellow google lites. It does not work here. I have an icloud account that goes to my phone iheomau@icloud.com and will send these updates (on this blog) but barring these I say in case of emergency reach me via wechat. My id is below and it is mostly instantaneous…i can also make calls on it which are free as opposed to the calls via my cellphone (which will also reach me but arent free). If you send an email I ask that you self censor it🙂


Discernment: My plan today is to spend the day doing “touristy” things so that I can get comfortable traveling alone in China and learning the various transport systems…As a DC native I somewhat inherently dislike doing “touristy” things so asked my Father for assistence. He told me the name of a place to visit in Mandarin, and a description(something about being a place that treaty’s were signed). My host, a seeker, was curious about what my Dad told me and wisely noted that he probably shoud have spoken at a time when I wasn’t so tired\asleep, so I would remember more clearly). I did not escape me, as incredibly ordained that she was somewhat of a history buff and there were only two possible places I could go where treaties were signed in Beijing. Only one of these are a “touristy” place, in a museum in Tiannamen square. the other is where the former spanish embassy was and is now governemtn buildings and she warned if I do go at all, I should definitely not try to enter, or even linger or look closely at anythign there…wise advise. And so, my adventure today is to Tiannamen square, among other places!

再见(bye)

吴倚恩 (Wu Yi’en – My Chinese name)

On Racism and Racial Reconciliation

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Im on the bus as I write this and all but in tears.

     I’m returning at this hour because I have been ministering cross culturally; loving international students by helping them write English essays; hours of analogies to help them understand poetry, correcting grammar and giving advice from life, from the bible, from love. I stayed so long, all public transit except buses are shut down…I’m 1 hour into my 3.5 hour journey home and now my bus is stopped… for about 15 minutes as this lady shares her complaint and asks for information to seek recourse. She as I was waiting for the bus…I, in San Mateo, she, East Palo Alto…wisely she brought a flashlight with her(California for all its solar startups hasn’t yet figured out street lights at night) and was standing in the street to better flag down the bus…while not the east coast, Cali gets cold at night and this night is similar; the bus comes and she flags it down with her light…the driver sees her, waits for her to step onto the sidewalk as he slows down and then blows right by her. She tells this story about 5 times while we wait…confirming he saw her, he slowed as though he would stop and waited for her to clear the street and still passed after seeing her…

     My app indicated to me that missing this bus would be an hour wait for the next one…she had walked and waited for the next bus to find out his bus number, to write a complaint. (Though honestly my faith in our justice systems is almost nonexistent). The driver asks for her story again and this time her voice breaks as she tells it; and my heat with her…she has all the mannerisms of my own mother, even dresses similarly, favoring one leg over the other because her knee might be swelling again, her complexion, hair style…she reminds me of ‘Mother Dear’…

     The driver is getting the info and she’s apologizing to us for holding up the bus for so long…a few are grumbling, though I’m not sure why…this is one of the homeless ‘hotel’ buses that the homeless ride to and fro the whole night…what is the rush to get to the Palo Alto transit center only to wait another 40 minutes in the cold for the next bus…’hotel 22′? Hes telling her the number and I see her searching her bag for something…maybe a pen? I rush foward and give an index card, and pen, brushing away her apologies, saying with my eyes,  “I’m sorry” and “I stand with you” and “wish there was more I could do”. Pushing down my anger at hearing the bus driver say the other driver is a good person and he’s always talking to him about being ‘nice’ and he needs to act better. She departs and I’m left as I am so often these days with the broken pieces. 

My profound grief at the daily injustices my people face and the heartbreaking regularity of it all. 

My anger at how a person that does evil deeds can still be called a “good person”.

The sad reality that the brothers and sisters I worship with on Sundays will likely never be with me…or her, on these buses, at these hours.

The confused calling that I feel to love people of every ethnicity and culture and wonder if God might call someone to love people of my own.

With the tears I longed to shed with her, the embrace I did not give her and  the frustrations of my co-journeyers that don’t understand nor empathize

The remainder of the journey ahead.

I’m on the bus as I write this and am now in tears. The journey of radical love and kinship with the suffering savior is a hard one.

Familiar Narratives #Ferguson

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I write this today as I try to make sense out of the turbulence in my own soul. The conflicting emotions that have been brewing, not just in the last three months, but for a lifetime(thus far)….Perhaps from the age of two when I realized passports can keep a child separated from her mother, or that no one speaks my language and understands me in this new country except a few members of my family or that for some reason I need to change myself so that all will be okay.

Twenty Three years later, fluent in English and a believer in Christ..it seems that little of these narratives have changed. What does the gospel, if anything bring to these stories, and life experiences, and what should my response as a Christ Follower be?

Papers & People

The first narrative for many calls to mind the immigration debate and ‘crisis’ facing our nation.The underlying issue, however, is whether people are more important than laws…paper? My experience and that of many minority communities is that America is a land of legalists. You don’t have papers? “Doesn’t matter if this is a family, she doesn’t have the required paperwork”; the law (paper) says X, well “this was the wording”, “it’s written on this paper”, so it must be so.

We live in a land where paper is valued more highly than people…Ex convicts with ‘rap-sheets’ can’t get work even if someone trust worthy can vouch for them, transcripts and tests are our true metrics of learning. We seek and worship the almighty diploma (piece of paper) and install them in tall alters in our offices and places of work. We’ve chucked the bartering system and consolidated our commerce to small pieces of paper by whom people live and die. In america it seems every paper and the words they contain is elevated except the one that should. The word. The word which became flesh.

Our history is that in which our words read that all men are created equal except some men which were created 3/5ths of other men. Our’s is the history where the difference between a slave and a free person is their papers, and in our prison system today, whether you stay in jail tonight, or walk free tonight, is dependent on whether you can summon enough of the right denomination of green papers. Detectives detect nothing anymore, but follow the paper trail; Companies fail and leave behind worthless papers. Our’s is a society that screams that papers matter more than people; Yet, the bible tells us that was and is not so. That word writes that people are the crowning end to creation, and that people are blessed, to bless other people. The word desires that all people would come to himself, and indeed ‘that’ person is greater than all the papers that came before him. The fulfillment, the fullness, embodied in person, Jesus…

In america we value papers more than people; but it was not always so.

At the Genesis of America people were valued more than papers; and the Wampanoag tribe gathered in 1621 to meet some pilgrims who didn’t have the needed papers. And shared with them, ‘the bread of life’…The bread of life. Life to them and the many generations that came after them. When people are valued more highly than paper, it leads to and brings life, not death and destruction, but life and creativity. We can, and surely should, continue to get papers rewritten, but our fundamental problem is not what the papers say; it’s whether we can all value people more than paper.

Conflict & Conversion

In the context of training for a cross-cutural experience, I once heard, “the goal of healthy, succesful, conflict is not in determining a right or wrong party but in mutual understanding of the other”. I like to think of this as mutual conversion. Conflict or dissonance is the inevitable expression of misunderstanding. The prevailing narrative of minorities and black men in particular is that of being misunderstood. From childhood, misunderstanding the role and mechanism of motor skills, differentiated by gender or race leads to misunderstanding as abnormal, unruly. Difference in language is misunderstood as ignorance, and in schools, lack of interest is misunderstood as lack of ability; In streets a group is misunderstood as a gang, and criminalized dress is misunderstood as being criminal. To situations where confused questions are misunderstood as attitude, and fear is misunderstood as danger. Till unarmed is misunderstood as armed and finally when the right to life is misunderstood as the right to death. Where is the mutual conversion in that? What has been disheartening in the past few weeks, and twenty-three years, is that, try as we might, we can’t seem to get understood. We post our stories, our grief, our experiences and they are discredited, ignored and disqualified from the discussion. They meet ears that don’t hear, and eyes that don’t see.

To be fair…

I don’t understand the other side.

What does it feel like for most systems to work in your favor; to have generations of a head start and to choose and paint the landscapes that you’ll live in? Yet, I see two possibilities for mutual conversion. The first is for those in positions of security to listen, (not qualify), (not discredit), (not dismiss) but to listen until you think you get it, and then to ask tons of questions to ensure you really get it, and then to repeat back what you’ve heard to ensure it’s truly grasped. And for those in positions of vulnerability to listen, (not qualify), (not discredit), (not dismiss) but to listen until you think you get it, and then to ask tons of questions to ensure you really get it, and then to repeat back what you’ve heard to ensure it’s truly grasped. In this mutual conversion, conflict resolution, looks like movement to commensurate levels of vulnerability and security. In fact, I thought this was what Christ was exemplifying when the word became flesh and dwelt among us? He, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men Phil 2:7-9. So that through death we might have life in him. So that we might become lifted even as he was, a first-born of many brothers Rom 8:29.

There are other approaches to resolve this conflict. Namely, ‘completely segregate’, very popular in the seventies and might make a resurgence amongst those that don’t buy into Christ’s vision of returning for a united, multi-ethnic and multi cultural church. Or the ‘turn the tables’ approach where there is uprising and the oppressed become the oppressors. This was also popular in the 70’s, very popular all around the world today (ISIS much?) and even held favor amongst Jesus’ disciples though not Christ himself. The gospel is indeed good news for the oppressed as well as the oppressor, must be salvation from the hell we’re headed to, but also the the hell we’re in. And is intimately about death and life, and requires that all that adhere to it, die to the things that they think are life, and find new life in Christ, whether that is death for our power or powerlessness, security or vulnerability, paper or people; we die; are resurrected; and thus we Change.

Our creaturelyness means that we change and were made to change. God is the one that is unchanged, ‘I am’ not. ‘We are’ not. Change is both our destination and our vehicle and scripture whispers that the destination of every person that has ever lived is not heaven or hell but to be “conformed to the image of Christ”. Each’ destination has been determined ahead of time and to all’ great surprise is not a location but a person. Thus the message of Christianity is not you’re okay, i’m okay. Or that you are wrong and I am right; but a message of individual, collective and systemic change. Death and resurrection to new life, until every person, every paper, every misunderstanding, is conformed, is constrained, is made, is submitted into the image of Christ…

A few weeks ago I heard the most unlikeliest of songs at my church. It was a modern-day hymn, “Love lifted me”. Surprising for more reasons than in a non-denominational, mostly younger, church, folks sing hymns. But this hymn in particular is so familiar to my community to my culture. It’s a hymn we sung several times a month, a regular in the predominantly African-American church I grew up in. It was indeed unexpected in this ‘definitely not African American’ church but also that the hymn was greatly changed in sound and form from that which was familiar. Certainly this wasn’t a hymn of amazing grace and rescue from lips of a culture that has had more than it’s fair share of despair. It wasn’t from the soul of the church’ mother with scores of life already lived;  instead from one that hasn’t yet broached a ‘few’ decades of life. The tempo was different; the medium was with a band not a capella or organ accompanied. It had changed, but struck me as profoundly beautiful that it was accessible in this new context.

When I felt God directing me to this congregation, I was aware that this would mean death (weekly) to hearing worship in a context that was familiar, for hymns being sung regularly and powerfully; Yet, I found in this simple modernized version, new life, and resurrection to many of the things that I had let die. Changed certainly, but offering new life.

I hope as a nation we have courage to embrace the death of the way things have always worked, have always been and get to taste of the new life that is ahead. I hope that my narratives in the next twenty three years will indeed have changed.