Spiritual Practice: Listening and Learning

            Wow, it’s been an intense few weeks, hasn’t it? Black brothers and sisters are sharing their stories of pain and suffering. They are being extremely vulnerable and we honor their courage.

            In light of that, I’ve had some white male friends reaching out with questions, and I must say I’m thrilled this is happening.

            The first person asked, “Is there a place for us in the Black Lives Matter movement?” The answer is, “Yes. We are invited to the table, but not to lead, and not to dominate the discussion — but to listen and learn. Then, we are invited to help our white friends as they navigate this conversation.”

Fantastic things are coming from this. Large numbers of white people are gathering to read books by black authors and watch informative movies. Netflix and Amazon prime are highlighting these movies. Large numbers of white folks are joining protests. There will not be a race war; we will stand side by side for equality.

I think I’ve gotten an email from every business where I’ve ever purchased something telling me they support Black Lives Matter. If you want to be encouraged by an example that shows people are listening, check out https://www.babynames.com/.

            Another white friend asked if it would help to share his story of suffering at the hands of the police when he was nearly homeless and supporting himself by dumpster diving. His story was horrendous and his pain and suffering were real, but the answer was “No, not now. Maybe later.” The black community has been unheard for four hundred years. It’s time to let them speak.

            Another white friend asked if it would help to share his history of pain and suffering because of his extremely white skin. It has been very painful for him and it has affected many parts of his life. The answer again is “No, not now. Maybe later.”

            The beautiful thing about these conversations is first, they are asking! And second, they are receiving the “no” answer without flinching. They are graciously stepping back and making room for black stories to dominate. This is wonderful progress. Thank you, wonderful white brothers!

            This reminds me of the #metoo movement. I’m sure there were men who could have used the #metoo awareness to talk about being passed over at work, but they let the women speak. Because of that, things are changing. High profile rapists are now in prison, and a record number of women are now holding political office, and we are witnessing renewed progress in in women in sports and other places demanding equal pay.

            The BLM protests are already having an impact as well. Policy changes and new legislation are being passed to change the way police operate. We can hope this translates to more black people and people of color moving into leadership in all of our places of power in the nation and to changes in the prison system as well. Only if we live, work, and get to know each other as humans will we truly learn to look beyond the color of our skin.

Lantern Festival, Nevada

            When my daughter adopted a black child, I wanted it to be easy. I wanted her to be “ours.” But I have to admit, it took a while to see beyond our skin color difference. She felt “other” to me. Only as I grew to know her and love her did that “otherness” fade away and she became bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh.

When my husband’s gay colleague started inviting us to birthday parties, I wanted it to be easy, but I felt on the outside. Only as I came to know them, to rejoice over their joys, and mourn over their pain, did they cease to be my “gay friends” and just become my friends. Now they are more like family to me.

            There is another kind of listening and learning that is critical right now in our polarized nation. A conservative friend who told me via text that she disagreed with me about a social media post I made about mail-in ballots. I suggested we meet for a stroll and conversation. We had a fantastic talk and I learned things from her I didn’t know. I now understand why some folks are against mail in balloting. The sad part is that she has reached out to other friends who don’t even text back.

I would never let politics get in the way of my relationship with someone I love. We are better together, if we can listen and learn from each other.

            How are you listening and learning? We need to encourage each other. If you have questions, this is a safe place to dialogue about uncomfortable topics. I have to approve comments, so no one can attack you! Comment away.

Photos: Top Reno Black Lives Matter Vigil, mine

Photo of white man by Inzmam Khan on Pexels.com

Photo of the Lantern Festival, mine

Navigating Climatic Culture Shifts

erosion

Rain in dry northern Nevada is unusual, averaging about seven inches of precipitation a year. Lately, we’ve had these crazy monsoonal rains. They come hard and fast, with hail, wind and pounding rain, and last about an hour. They cause instant flooding here because we just don’t know how to absorb that kind of water.

My husband and I took the dog hiking in the desert after it had a chance to dry from three days of these crazy rains, and we were shocked how the landscape had changed.  Sharp rocks, formerly covered in dirt, were exposed and made walking difficult. We had to tread gingerly to stay upright and keep our balance. Deep ruts where people had trekked through the mud made walking much more fatiguing. And landslides covered some of the trail, which caused us to look and listen carefully for safe passage over or around these obstructions. I was glad we were on this hike together as I would have felt rather unsafe were I alone; it would have been easy to fall or twist an ankle.

It reminded me of what it feels like to be a part of the American culture right now. Things keep shifting dramatically. Almost every day there is a storm that changes the landscape of our nation. Gays are getting greater civil rights, racism is getting uncovered for all to see, and the confederate flag is coming down. These big changes, these epic shifts, will eventually make us a better place if we can negotiate them well.

The problem is, how do we negotiate these changes well. If you’re like me, change is hard. Actually, I love change, if I’m the one choosing it, then it feels like an adventure. But, if a change is thrust upon me from outside, I find myself kicking hard against it. Some people have kicked hard against the culture shifts we are currently experiencing and now their feet hurt because no amount of kicking can stop a culture shift.

plant

How then, do we negotiate these changes with grace? Here are some ideas from my recent hike:

1. Sharp rocks, formerly covered in dirt, were exposed and make walking difficult. You have to tread gingerly to stay upright and keep your balance.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when you are faced with a culture shift. It’s easy to shut down and stop moving. The key is to keep walking. Walk slowly and carefully forward, engaging as much as you can with those around you who are also experiencing this shift. It may feel scary and strange, but God is still on the throne. None of this is outside of his providence. He wants to heal our land and we must keep moving forward to experience that healing. Be patient and gentle, sharp rocks (hurtful words) might be painful, try not to kick them at each other. We are all just trying to figure this out.

2. Deep ruts where people had trekked through the mud and were now dried, make walking much more fatiguing.

These changes might leave you feeling particularly fatigued. Be kind to yourself: rest, take breaks from the news and social media. But, don’t stay in that place too long. We need to continue the walk toward healing together.

3. Landslides covered some of the trail, which caused us to look and listen carefully for safe passage over or around these obstructions.

Right now, the most important thing we can offer each other is keeping our eyes open and listening carefully. Understanding will be the key to navigating these shifts together. If you find someone who has a different opinion or experience than yours keep your mouth closed and listen. Try to see the world from their point of view. Look for things you can agree on and start the discussion there. Talking about racism or LGBTQ issues can be uncomfortable. Be willing to be uncomfortable. We all in this together and we need to listen to each other in love.

4. I was glad we were on this hike together as I would have felt rather unsafe were I alone; it would have been easy to fall or twist an ankle.

Most importantly, we need to help each other. The best way to understand the LGBTQ experience is to make a friend from that community. Really get to know someone; it’s impossible to hate someone you have spent time getting to know.

The same is true with racism. Spend time with someone who looks different than you do. Really listen, invite each other over share food. Do this in community. We are on this hike together and we need to be there when the going gets tough.

Pretty soon your gay friend will become just — your friend. Your black friend will become just – your friend. Pretty soon we will see beyond our differences and see each other as fellow hikers on this new path together.

How are you feeling about the shifts in our culture today? What have you found helpful in negotiating the changes?

(One thing I’m trying is writing a book from the experience of a marginalized population. It’s my way of trying to identify with the daily issues of those who have been kept out and made to feel “other.” Please join me in my small attempt to change the world by pre-ordering “Cracker,” and sharing the link to this book).

Photo Credit Link

My Small Drop in the Ocean of Battling Racial Inequality

race-equality

You can’t turn on the news these days without being exposed to racial violence. Black men are gunned down and incarcerated at an alarming rate. Black churches are attacked with shooting and burning.

I, as a white person, would like to believe that none of this is really happening because it’s not happening to me. Or…is it?

As a Christian, I believe that when one member of the body suffers, we all suffer. I suffer with people from my (mostly white) church when they lose a family member, a job or receive a horrible diagnosis. Why then, don’t I suffer with my black brothers and sisters when they face repeated injustices on a daily basis?

Once I had a difficult conversation with a friend of color. She said that it was like she was in a boxing ring, having to fight for equality every day, not only against systemic injustice but also racial prejudice. She experiences microaggressions every day. “little” aggressions, like being followed by undercover cops in a store, or finding the ethnic hair products in the “Pet Food” aisle.

My friend’s boxing ring is a place where the fight rages, and white folks can enter the ring to join the fight. But my friend said there is a big difference between us. She can not jump in and out of the boxing ring, but I can. By virtue of living her daily life, she is always in the ring. Her challenge to me was, “Stay in the ring with me.”

Those words haunted me. I’ve done a lot of reading and processing about my white identity and the power I was born into. I want my voice at the table of racial reconciliation to count for something. But…what could I do from largely white Northern Nevada?

Well…I’m a writer. I decided to literarily use my voice. I wrote an alternative history, with the hope that white readers would get that feeling of being stuck in the boxing ring, unable to get out, and perhaps take a step further on their own ethnic journeys. I even included a discussion guide at the end to help the conversation to move forward.

This was a terrifying book to write because it could easily be misunderstood – I could easily be misunderstood. I could offend people on both sides of the story; I could make matters worse rather than better. But really, how much worse could they be? I have the opportunity to influence, in my small way, our world for the better. I decided to take that opportunity, despite my fear.


“Cracker” is that book. Even the name is incendiary. You can find the book for pre-order on Amazon and in all formats on Smashwords. I’d love it if you would read it when it comes out and give me an honest review, or if you have a blog and would be willing to do a post, contact me and I’ll get you a copy now before the book is launched.

I’m taking a huge risk here, but it’s a risk my friends of color take every day. Once, when another difficult conversation with a friend of color got uncomfortable, I shut down. I got quiet. She asked why. I said, “I’m so afraid of saying the wrong thing. I feel like I’m stepping on eggshells in this conversation.“

She said, “Jacci, I need you to be willing to break eggshells. You need to be willing to say the wrong thing in this conversation. Keeping silent gives you power. By being willing to say the wrong thing in love, you open up the possibility for a real conversation, no matter how painful.

That is what I’m doing. I’m trying to open up a real conversation. Even if it’s painful.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to keep the conversation about racial equality moving forward. What have you tried that is working. Have you messed up like I have? I’d love to hear your stories. I really believe that we all need to do our small part to change the racial inequality in our country.  We can each add a drop of what eventually becomes an ocean of change.

I’m attaching a video I find very amusing. I think it makes “microaggressions” something we can talk about because it is done in a humorous way. That’s what I’m trying to do with Cracker. It’s not humorous, but I’m trying to use fiction to open up a dialogue. Enjoy!

Photo Credit: Good Men Project