Tired

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I wake up this Sunday, and nearly every Sunday with a sigh. I lay in bed as I contemplate, how many more sermons I can sit through when the social ills of the day are not mentioned. How many more times must I enter Evangelical spaces that seemingly care about discipleship but don’t disciple much in social justice? I wonder if maybe this will be the day that the sermon is different. That the speaker will have allowed the Lord to have their conscience pricked? It does happen sometimes. Sometimes.

Today I contemplate, what if I wear my Black Lives Matter shirt? My imago dei shirt, affirming Black people are made in God’s image. Will it prevent people from coming to me for prayer? Will it lead to more honest prayer? What if I wear it every Sunday? I’m tired of needing to carry the fight to church as well as every space I inhabit.

I’m reminded though of a podcast I listened to, just a few days ago. It was all things beautiful! It began with poetry, it continued with discussion, it was historic, current, salient, informed! I highly recommend episode #142 – American? The podcast is called The Black One. I’m struck by two threads that emerged, both an exploration around what makes oppression possible, particularly when the oppressors are outnumbered, and fundamentally the nature of bullies(oppressors). The most revelatory: oppression triumphs when you convince people that oppression is preferable to death. This hit me like a ton of bricks! This was the fundamental thing I struggled with in high school after successfully advocating for our class to read Beloved. I highly recommend everyone read this book, but spoiler alert, the book deals with the aftermath of a family in which the mom attempted to kill her children rather than have them re-captured and returned to slavery. All. of. highschool. I wrestled with how to view her, how to understand her, and whether I would do the same. Honestly as I read the history books, I wish more people had thought death preferable to oppression. Sure, rebellion means death but surely that is better than slavery, better than slavery for your whole family? Slavery indeed endured because there were many who were convinced that this wasn’t true. What role did Christianity play in that? (I’ll just leave that question here).

The other thread from this podcast episode is how to deal with bullies. The insight: a bully is actually a coward, and the thing they least want, is to fight. So…you need to fight them every time. They should know, if you step out of line, we are going to fight and make sure in your first fight they know what to expect. Eventually their fear of fighting and needing to fight every time will lead to your victory.  There were many more gems, the exploration of the Boston Tea Party and responses to police brutality. The vast difference in perception when black people protest. Exploring why children of civil rights activists often didn’t follow in their parent’s footsteps. How having a Black relative, does not automatically mean you understand Black culture, or know much about Black people…Like I said, phenomenal episode.

I thought this morning. I’m tired...

but this is a fight I need to wage,

and wage every time until something changes.

I do think death is preferable than oppression.

And I am not afraid to die.

and honestly, when I think of what could come … he who will come … I don’t feel no ways tired,

no more mudpies.

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Re-memory

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I just wanted to take a few minutes to remember.

Remember that puzzling day when the principal called an assembly and sent us all to our first period class.

Watching the remaining planes and confusion.

The waiting and hoping that my mom would come pick us up and that today she didn’t have to go to the pentagon.

The wondering about the people that didn’t leave the building immediately, that went up to find friends, that jumped out rather than burn to death.

The kid,

a student like me on a field trip across the country.

DCPS student.

Like me,

like us.

The kid who didn’t get a chance to go to college, didn’t get to travel anymore.

Today I’m in Cali, but my heart is in DC.

I remember.

On Poverty

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It’s hard to be poor in America.

poor.

black .

to live

for others

with nothing to your name.

to want for us

and strive for us

for us

for them

for …

 

I’ve lived too long for “them”.

Too long for the words never uttered…

”I’m here, I won’t leave you alone in this”.

 

Too long,

for hope —

deferred,

for dreams —

paused.

 

Too long to fast-forward all the painful parts.

Too long in grief,

Too long, to …

not have mastered loneliness,

not needing, ANYTHING

a friend, a partner, a home of your own, space, a room,

a room of your own,

a place of your own…

 

not needing to be acknowledged,

just

to be heard.

not needing the whole pie,

just a slice,

the smallest,

just a taste of that promised

goodness.

 

not needing the memories, the happier days, the peaceful places.

 

Too long wanting what wasn’t, what is.

not.

and may.

not.

Too long…

questioning how to strike the balance between truth and grace.

Too long…

coaching reluctant gymnasts

 

too many reunions I couldn’t buy tickets for

and trips I couldn’t take off on

too many stalled vacations and cars and stalled adventures and confessions and passport pages, unstamped

unstamped

unstamped LANGUAGES!

unspoken,

unwritten,

my story,

protagonist,

unseen,

unwritten.

 

unwritten greatness

too many

 

lost too soon

too many

images

videos

dash cams

too much

 

Black death

too much…

 

can one love too much?

Can one want,

too much?

or be..

or be!

too much

 

or give…

 

I have given

too much

 

inches,

miles,

centimeters!

even those

too much

 

silences,

hopes,

fucks!

given too much, too many

 

and I have NOTHING

more

to give

no more

to give

no hopes

no more chances

no more time

no more wishes for what could have been

could be, would be

 

I choose me

 

every broken piece

every penny not owed to someone else

every joke

and invention and story

untold

unwritten

every hope

every dream

every memory

and moment

and life

 

my own

 

now

 

for richer

or for poor

in sickness

or in health

till death finally brings that blessed rest.

On Michael Brown & Inception

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I’ve been trying for months to put the feeling into words. What it feels like to be a Black person in America, in California, to be a Black person in an evangelical church? Inception lends words because there are images that resonate.

I feel as though most around me are living in a dream world instead of the real world. They emerge briefly from these dreams with all sorts of wild ideas and focuses. They get on TV and share them and I wonder…who incepted that idea?

“Affirmative Action is the Justice departments most pressing education problem. White college applicants are being discriminated against.”

“The current president (2017) is a man of God”

“Police should be more aggressive and abusive”

“Let’s continue the war against Black people -NRA”

“Giving a tax break to the richest Americans will solve the nations vast inequality problem where we have income disparities not seen from the time of Moses and Pharaoh”

I could go on.

At the same time, living in the dream world means you are blind to the things that happen in the real world.

Dash-cam video of the Philando Castille shooting? –“didn’t see it”

Baltimore police planting drugs and making false arrests? -“didn’t know”

Don Jr. taking a meeting part of a foreign governments plan to help his father’s campaign and punishable by jail time? –What? he’s a good boy an honest mistake.

Pedro Hernandez on Riker island w/o speedy trial? -“who is that?”

There is an opioid crisis (10 years ago) – “lock them up, throw away the key, execute tons of them on faulty evidence! the skum deserve to die!”

There is an opioid crisis(today)…wow (looks like what has been true all along, your children do drugs at rates far exceeding or at least equal to Black folks!) –“National emergency, they need to be hospitalized, rehabilitated, jail is too harsh”

I think I realized around the time of the Enron scandal that we were not all living in the real world. In the real world if you stole something from a store even a candy bar, you would get punished. The store police would grab you, handcuff you, throw you in a police car and if you weren’t sufficiently scared and peed your pants already, they would take you to prison. If you killed anyone, you would be thrown in prison and the key thrown away. If you sped, even a few miles over the speed limit you would be fined harshly, costs that might be half of your rent that month, if you even happened to be in a group of people that were doing wrong you would get their punishment. I learned this in the real world. If I was on a bus and people were acting crazy my mom told me to get off. Don’t be associated with them, the police like to sweep up everyone in their craziness. In the real world greed got you killed, it destroyed your family…but in the dream world…things are different.

When a car company whose product is knowingly engineered in a way that kills people and they cover it up till they are caught…(Murder) they don’t go to jail, they don’t seem to suffer anything except are asked to return a very very very small percentage of the profits they made from others death.

When the rich steal, they are fined. Not jail.

When the rich commit treason they never answer for that charge.

No wonder the evangelical dream is so warped from Christ’s real life words and real life example.

“Love thy neighbor as thyself”: in dream world “love they family as thyself and hate thy neighbor”

“Welcome the alien, welcome the stranger”: in dream world “deport the alien, persecute the stranger”

“I desire mercy not sacrifice”: in dream world “Show no mercy, be more rough, be more aggressive”

You’ve heard the term “woke”? It is to describe people that have been living in the dream world and woke up and realized the real world was vastly different. I often feel like I spend all my time in the dream world trying to wake people up…and this has not only continued to feel like a soul crushing weight …but…I really hate the dream world. Not that it won’t be tempting to stay there forever where the things not possible or true in the real world can happen. But…I’ve met the living God and think he is only truly known in the real world. For his sake every dream is set aside. Everything else, I think is trash, compared to knowing him. False gods will no longer satisfy.

I know that most of my evangelical friends in the evangelical dream do not wish to let the totem drop to see if they are in the dream world or not…I was always fuzzy on whether I thought it was the true way to see it or not…I wonder if I can put forward another theory….

what if the way to determine is death?

Christians love to talk about resurrection, but before that is death. I think it has the power to shatter the effects of a dream. If you let it though. If you let it.

Yesterday was the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death and indeed for me it shattered the effects of a dream. It shattered my illusion of belonging in the evangelical dream world. It shattered the unspoken thought that justice will move forward without my active participation. It shattered my silence about how different the real wold and dream world seem to be…and honestly it continues to make it hard for me to be in the evangelical dream. It shattered that thin separation I had been holding onto…no need to feel deeply because I identify as Nigerian not fully African American. It shattered the illusion that I can try to maintain these distances and separations and call myself a child of God, his daughter, and deny myself the opportunity to weep for his son, my brother.

In the dream world death is the end. People stop caring, and their cause stops mattering.

But in the real world there is one that overcame death and death is not the last word.

Please wake up.

Please join me in the real world.

Let us see and be truly seen.

Let’s know and be truly known.

See our grief.

Acknowledge our mutual humanity.

our mutual parentage.

And only then can the real world be a place far better than we dreamed.

A holiday at sea.

Won’t you join me?

Her Songs

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It’s months later and I realize I didn’t shed enough tears for her when we laid her in the ground. In these months after, the tears have continued to fall, and an errant comment, a stray thought, brings beside me my grief. I don’t know when all the tears will fall, if I’ll ever feel ‘done’, if it will ever stop seeming as ‘fresh’, as gripping? Do I even desire that?

I know that her absence changes me. Has changed me, slowed me, challenged me. I want more for this life, I don’t want to regret how I’ve spent my time, and with whom I’ve spent my time. I want to know more of her, of her… of my culture, my language, her children, my father, my aunts, my uncles, their families. I now crave the quiet spaces and the simple things. Making a little garden on the balcony, tending to plants. I enjoy making coffee in the morning, not for the caffeine but for the rhythm of slowness, and reflection. I now wonder where I’ll take root and who knows me. I go to the library again, I walk there, and remember the names of the staff. I see the neighbors, and stop to chat, get to know their stories and kids.

And the tears continue to fall.

I collect more songs that remind me of her. I realize God may have been preparing me for a while as I recall songs that I heard over a year ago. I recall the many months I spent meditating on the death and resurrection of Lazarus. The tears continue. As odd as it seems…I think she was a lighthouse…. and the seas now are dark treacherous. I hope she can still be a lighthouse…I’m a soul in desperate need of guidance, safe harbor…

This too is her song.

Evermore

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I didn’t feel anything until we lowered her into the ground…Then all the emotions came. I didn’t process anything until I was by myself, not completely but alone with my own thoughts, among strangers. When my dad and I parted in Frankfurt, I to Cali, he to the east, I began to consider who it was that I lost. What is was that I felt as they sprinkled the dirt over the coffin, “ashes to ashes”, “dust to dust”.

I wished I had spent more time with her, that my Igbo was better, that I had been already married so that she could come, that my family had shared more stories, more memories when we had gathered together.

In the airport, tired, so tired from not sleeping in the last day and half of travel, caring for a baby and mom on the plane, and a slight headache building, I decided to pray, to meditate, seek to live in the fullness of time rather than clock time…and also prepare myself for the next 10 hour flight ahead!

By happenstance I chose this song “Evermore” done by Phil Wickham and part of his christmas album. The song on repeat, I considered the recording I found a few nights earlier after we celebrated her life and laid her to rest…

That night I listened through the various tape recorders I had brought with me, hoping to hear the familiar cadence of her voice. I knew I had recorded one maybe two stories, over a decade ago, I knew not on which recorder or whether they were still in the mini cassettes at home. At last I found it! Mama recounting her life before she married my grandfather, and how it was she came to Port Harcourt. It was a rare story, she was telling in English mostly, with some Igbo mixed in. She wanted me to understand her and kept checking to ensure I heard it aright. At some point someone came in, I remember not who, a woman, in Igbo she asked, how are you my daughter? Have you eaten? she continued in this wise for a little before getting back to the story. I laughed at her antics, running away to her village, caring for her sister’s children at a young age, going to marry a stranger, leaving her family. That night I fell asleep listening to her voice, and weeping, that aside from this tape I would hear it no more, not even quite finishing the hour + of dialogue I had recorded then.

So it was in the airport that this aside came to mind, this unremembered woman who had intruded on the story, who was welcomed to do so. The song was on repeat and as I closed my eyes and prayed I saw this image:

It was so light! So much sun, in the brightness and purity and beauty that had so delighted me as a child and tempted my gaze upward to the sun and likely why I wear glasses now. I felt that peace, that I most familiarly remember after school when I went to Dupont Park and would lay on the grass and look at the clouds and simply be. This glorious peace and vision was present as I journeyed to the heavens, the clouds parting to take me to a wedding. I thought I had the vantage of the guests as I could see the groom, but soon realized I was walking to him, and so must be the bride, part of the bride of Christ! As I approached I became aware of an angelic host and beasts around him and curiously a great multitude attending the approach of this one lady…It brought to mind immediately C.S. Lewis’s description of her :

All down one long aisle of the forest the under-sides of the leafy branches had begun to tremble with dancing light; and on earth I knew nothing so likely to produce this appearance as the reflected lights cast upward by moving water. A few moments later I realized my mistake. Some kind of procession was approaching us, and the light came from the persons who composed it.

First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers-soundlessly falling, lightly drifting flowers, though by the standards of the ghost-world each petal would have weighed a hundred-weight and their fall would have been like the crashing of boulders. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.

….

“And who are all these young men and women on each side?”

“They are her sons and daughters.” “She must have had a very large family, Sir.” “Every young man or boy that met her became her son-even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”

“Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?” “No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more.

I continue down the aisle towards them, towards the bright groom and love of my life, and of hers; The tears now flowing freely I came face to face with Mama, my grandmother, welcoming me to the wedding, a smile of great joy on her face that said “welcome my daughter”.

The song, chosen for its peace but otherwise by happenstance was the score of a more beautiful wedding than I could ever hope! Mama got to attend, but not only attend, came to welcome me there.

We said goodbye here on earth but this vision assured me that she would ever rest in beauty in the light of heaven’s glow. I will see her again one day and we will both enjoy the light of the world, for evermore.

Waking up in Nigeria

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I woke up this morning and thought for a second I was already home. I had left the window open (an exceedingly rare occurrence for my usually cold self) and there was a humidity in the room and the sound of slightly distant traffic and life happening outside my window. There was a stillness to the morning and a freshness to the air, light that flooded the room and a sense of deep peace.             I thought I was in Lagos actually, staying again in my Aunt’s house. (I remembered, she also has passed). I woke up way early, way before any alarm and any responsibilities. Grateful for the Lenten practice to sleep a bit more to allow the Lord meet me. I woke thinking of family…not in Nigeria exactly but here, that are making a way for me to get to Nigeria. The amazing generosity of people making me food, coming to sit with me and hear stories, purchasing me flights, singing songs, prayer, hugs. I remembered an entry I wrote in a journal years ago, “I want to be able to say at the end of my life that I have tried all the promises of God and found them to be true” My mysticism at his words to the disciples that no one that has left Mother Father, Sister, Brother, houses, land for my sake and the sake of the gospel would fail to received 100 fold all these with persecutions in this life and eternal life in the age to come. I have learned the truth of this promise from my brothers and sisters in the last week and a half. Thank you my brother, Thank you my sister, Thank you Moms and Dads…. Truly such kindness is too wonderful for me! I can believe what has faintly eluded me these many years, the conviction that God truly, truly loves me. And he indeed has not left me as an orphan, and will never leave me alone.

This morning I woke up in Nigeria, and wept for the family lost; but also for the exceedingly abundantly lavishly wonderful God who has already given me many more family.