To the Owner of Saint Germain: Beware the Lynching Mob

How many years are we past the lynching time of our country? 50? 60? 70? That time when black bodies were hung from trees by the neck as white spectators brought their children and picnic lunches to watch after church on a bright and sunny Sunday. The entertainment and catharsis of making sure a dangling and writhing body died at the altar of self righteousness and hate. Deep, deep hate. What kind of a religion do you have to follow to justify such an evil act?

I’ll answer that question with a simple answer: anything. Humans can take anything and turn it into a self serving religion that seeks to destroy others. We’ve long worshipped at the altar of our races, genders, sexualities, nationalities, tax brackets, districts in town, regions of the country, political parties, and histories. Whenever there are two of us together that are alike in any way, our inclination is to bend our hearts to worship what binds us. And we will destroy anyone who is different. Such is the human heart.

So it shouldn’t be so difficult to see how groups of people could gather around a burning body and eat their chicken sandwiches for lunch. When you have deluded your mind and heart to believe that who you are, what you believe, and how you live makes you more righteous than those over there, than you are only a rope and a match away from the lynching tree. Defending our tribe and our righteousness will always produce in us a murderous hate that always, always rejects love. It is our national history. It is our human history: a hate that longs to destroy.

And ain’t nothing different about today. Just look around you with an eye looking for it. Click on the news. Scroll through your news feed. Visit your child’s school. Walk through your neighborhood. Visit a public housing project. Bring up feminism with your conservative uncle. And soon you’ll discover that we aren’t much different from who we were 100 years ago. If anyone steps out of line from your value systems, check your pulse. What immediately comes to your mind? When you see protestors rioting in the street during Trump’s inauguration what is your gut reaction? Disgust? Or compassion? When you hear another news story of a black person shot dead by the police how do you react? What do you post on Facebook? Pay close attention to your body and your mind’s responses to people who are not like you. Who have different values and beliefs. Different religions, politics, and skin colors. If you’re anything like me you’ll discover that you aren’t far from that destructive hate that tied ropes around black necks. Because we haven’t come very far.

It might sound like I’m hyperbolizing. But stay with me. I have a story to tell you

There’s a bar in downtown Norfolk called Saint Germain. I’ve never been there. Honestly, I hadn’t heard of it until this weekend when a screenshot of a Facebook post from a guy named Davod Helldick (cute, right?) went viral around our small town. His post went like this:

“Women’s march of Norfolk please shut the fuck up, I was finally getting some sleep for the first time in a week and all I can hear is y’all bitches running your fucking mouth and screaming out front of my building dafuq. And for real nobody gives a fuck. Just so you know, and that’s real.”

Sincerely, Davod Helldick.

Well, fellow internet sojourners, you can tell where this story is going, can’t you? All hell broke loose, rightfully, on this small business and its owner. Calls for boycotts and passing out flyers around his establishment with the post printed on them and dozens of terrible Yelp reviews later, and I’m afraid that the damage, even post apology at this point, is irreversible. And I can’t help to feel bad for the sorry misogynist. No, wait. A gay misogynist, to his admission. Because those absolutely do exist. And why do I feel sorry for him? Because the mob unrelentingly came for him. Even though what he said is disgusting and indefensible, I feel sorry for him. He said an insensitive, terrible thing. He hurt people who were passionate about their cause. He degraded and harmed women. He was insulting and wrong and deserved to be rebuked. But that is never enough, is it? When someone, especially from our tribe, steps out of line we always call for blood. It’s not enough to rebuke and correct. We have to slander his business. Call for the engines of capitalism to turn shut on him. Put his employees out of a job. Take a thriving small business from our city. Maybe even post his head on the city gates and warn all who come here that there is no mercy for those who do wrong.

I know that you’re wondering how I could have the gall to compare this business owner’s shame to the system of lynching in the Jim Crow south. How dare I? The point is not in comparing the victims. The point is in comparing the perpetrators. We are the mob. We’ve always been the mob. Looking around us and over our shoulders waiting for someone, anyone, to step out of line and make them a spectacle for all to see. A way to police others into compliance. Because let’s not pretend that the black men that were lynched in the decades after slavery ended could have never had homophobic and misogynistic beliefs. Let’s not pretend that there are battered women who think that homosexuals go straight to hell. Let’s not pretend that the people for whom we fight for justice don’t ever cross our belief systems. And would we still protect them if you knew their innermost thoughts and values? Or would we still cry for their blood, too?

This is the moment in which we are living. The moment when the internet allows us to record and capture the actions and thoughts of everyone and not just correct and rebuke each other. But to call for their demise. And in a turn of the most interesting, this is the very thing that we decry. We decry conservatives for boycotting restaurants that support Planned Parenthood. We spew sexist and misogynistic words at female conservative political pundits. We ruin the livelihoods of those who have done exactly what we are doing. We shake our fists at the church for having and enforcing laws and values, but in the next breath are willing to shut down a man’s business for our own.

Oh, the hypocrisy of humans. It’s all that we know. I’ve told my husband on several occasions that I’m bound to end up on YouTube one of these days caught letting my son ride his bike without a helmet or yelling at my toddler for something that she can’t control. I am just waiting to be made a public spectacle in the town square for all to hurl insults and call for my blood with no amount of repentance or apology to save me.

Of course I have been a part of this culture. I have done my fair share of throwing stones and showing not an ounce of mercy. And for it I am ashamed. Our culture is spinning in a mad fit of revenge and hate, looking for the next person on whom to pounce. And not to dialogue, correct, and debate. But to kill. Destroy. It makes me nervous and afraid for me and my kids. It makes me nervous for the businesses in my city and the culture of repression and fear and policing that we’re creating for ourselves.

And yes, the owner of Saint Germain ought to be ashamed and deserves to be rebuked and corrected. But we must, we must offer mercy and grace. We must allow people to make mistakes and grow. We must not be so intolerant and hateful that nothing will atone for other’s wrongs but blood. I don’t want to see his bar go out of business. I want to see restaurants thrive in our city. And I don’t want the lynching mob to come knocking on my door demanding for conformity, even for a good cause and value. Because even our good things can cause us to do terribly wrong things. Don’t let the frenetic fear of our times cause you to destroy others, even when they harm you. It’s not going to do anything but cause us to become exactly what we hate.

The Great Unfulfilling Promises of Protesting

I have never left a protest or a demonstration ever really feeling fulfilled. Not ever. Mostly I feel disappointed. Full of promises and false hope. Some anger. Agitation. And a feeling that I don’t really belong in their movement. Whichever movement it is.

Isn’t that surprising? Because it is to me. Every time I walk away from a rally, a protest, or a demonstration, I drag my sign behind me on the ground pushing away trash that was left behind as my head swims with chants, poems, and slogans aimed against the enemy.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go!”

Indeed. Though, I’m unsure who all is listening. Listening to speakers and poets and musicians inspiring the crowds is usually the high point for me, but that too doesn’t last very long. Their voices fade behind me with every marching step and get lost in the chants of the crowd. It’s easy to feel lost and forgotten. Because the moment that you disagree with any one person around you they will turn on you in an instant. Oh, you disagree that your heteropatriarchy got you where you are today?! YOU’RE THE ENEMY. I mean, not that they’re wrong. Smash the patriarchy! But you’ll never see anyone turn on your quicker than your own tribe. And it makes me anxious. Nervous that I’ll slip and say the wrong thing. An insensitive, non-inclusive thing. Something that shows these passionate activists that I’m actually a fraud. A white, Christian, cis-gendered, heterosexual, suburban mom fraud. And such are all of my intersections.

After I marched in the Women’s March on Washington this past Saturday, the streets were so crowded with people that I was afraid my friend and I wouldn’t make it home. The lines to the metro were insanely long and a 5 mile Uber ride out of downtown was $100. Once we finally squeezed onto the train, I stood smashed against the chests and backs of other marching women, most of whom were wearing those bright pink pussy hats, holding tightly onto the bars above me, closing my eyes and looking for my people. Because I felt alone. These weren’t my people.

I know that this probably isn’t the experience of most of the people that attended the march. I’ve heard story after story of kindness, camaraderie, friendship, solidarity, and unification, and they all make my heart sing with joy. But that is not my story. I was glad to show up and march. I was glad to hold up my “Beautiful Resistance” sign alongside my friend who held her “Black Lives Matter” sign and march towards the White House against generations of racism, sexism, and antagonism against immigrants, trans people, queer people, those who are homeless, and who are differently abled. But if I’m honest with myself, if I dig down into my heart, I know that I left not feeling unified. I left feeling like an outsider looking in. Quick to be ousted if I give a critique or offer another view. You mean Clinton and Obama aren’t our only hope?! And out of the tribe am I thrown.

Though, I’m not in distress. Actually, I’m full of joy and hope. Because those marches and rallies and protests don’t function as a unifying place for me. They are a place of public agitation, resistance, and awareness used to push against the status quo and make our voices heard. But unity? Solidarity? I have to admit that those all fall miserably short of any type of lasting unification that can fulfill and sustain us.

I woke up on Sunday morning and eagerly got showered and dressed, walking around on my cold hardwood floors with my sore bare feet, ready to go to church. The only thing that my heart desired was to be in worship with the people of my church. The people who I disagree with politically and culturally more than any other people I’ve known, besides my family of course 🙂 , were the ones who I wanted to be around the most. My heart longed to sing with them, feast on the Lord’s Supper with them, pray with them, and be unified through the body and blood of Christ, whose spirit indwells inside of us, knitting us together in a sustaining and powerful unity that no political movement, party, or protest could ever touch. And isn’t it beautiful? That a people who are supposed to be separated and split apart by their political parties, cultural beliefs, races, genders, sexualities, and any other number of intersections are all brought together in love by Jesus? The holy spirit moved me to tears and profound worship this Sunday when I was brought near to my people. The adopted family of God. Those who are my brothers and sisters. Who extend love, repentance and forgiveness in ways that the world will never extend to me. All as an outpouring of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And that’s the only reason I can protest with hope: my trust and unity is not with the crowds or their slogans or their hats. It is in God who has adopted me into His family and made me His.

Writers Resist: Protest Poetry the Week of the Inauguration

What is art worth if it is not for slicing open the fattened bellies of the power that attempts to hold it hostage? 

Since it is the week of Donald Trump’s inauguration and Martin Luther King Jr’s 88th birthday, I’d like to fill this space with protest literature of my own creation and from generations of American activists, poets, and artists. I’d also love to promote any of your protest poetry, art and essays this week. You can contact me on Facebook or here in the comments for me to display and present your work in this space. Share it widely on your social media’s feed and demonstrate how we are all committed to defending and promoting our country’s ideals for a free, just, and compassionate democracy*. We will not stand idly by.

*http://www.writersresist.org/

trust

never trust anyone who gazes at the stars and passing clouds
and blames them for our wars
they neither toil nor spin drones and war heads
or rain down missiles as raindrops over
quivering leaves
they don’t choose to contaminate its falling water with
lead and cover it up in dust and blood
only drops of clear water with no political bent

in houses twisted with rusted pipes and asbestos
where children chew on banisters and window sills
slowly poisoned by time’s misunderstanding
the poison wrapped houses didn’t decide to take
our most innocent
hiding its deepest secrets under coats of paint
and repeal their healthcare on the way
out the door to save itself in taxes

the oak and the pine don’t call out from the wood
asking to be cut down for a stretching wall
as a pillar in a dividing altar
splitting families into pieces of burnt offerings
sacrificed for slashed prices on winter greens
and fruit
twisting strawberry vines don’t count votes
or signatures on bills

neither do they slap hands away from parted
pussy lips singing music in a lover’s ear
and ask for an apology or a signed petition
while marching on the lawn
that grows without question every year
where are your tired and poor, your huddled masses
where were you
when the wretched refuse from our teeming shores
came down out of his golden door and stamped
out our lamplight and raped our poor
who didn’t ask you for your distrust.

 

On Native Marsh: The First Millennial Was Born

The Tidewater is not a place that ends where the land begins. It is the salted marshes that spread inward from the coast of the Atlantic, with its deep belly swelling in the Chesapeake Bay and stretching out through the fingers of the James, Elizabeth, Lafayette, York, and Nansemond Rivers, cutting and dividing through sediment and rock, making fertile the womb of Virginia. Spreading wide between Point Comfort and Cape Henry, the two Royal points at the mouth of the James, the River opens on either side of it the legs of the lowlands. On the land to the south, my house backs against Knittingmill Creek where it descends from the Elizabeth that feeds out of the mouth of the James, all tangled and interwoven within a hundred steps from my front porch.

All within 30 miles of my home, on both the northern and southern sides of the James River, five generations of my family on my maternal side have left such memories in these marshes as we’ve been willing to keep. Though, little enough to satisfy me and my descendents. There’s not much else more boring than someone’s genealogy, unless of course it’s your own, so the history of how it came to be that my great-grandparents and grandparents ended up in the Tidewater isn’t really of great interest to you. But of this place, its marshy banks and its tidal shores, is where I did all of my growing up and have had most of my most meaningful experiences, both good and bad. And as such, its land and my history are interwoven, inseparable is my life from the history and the place, something I have never really understood or completely accepted. Why is it that bourbon and salt water weep from my eyes and pour out of my blood, the tide swelling so thick through my skin?

I was born at the time when the babies of the 60’s were sober long enough to have babies of their own and the wars of my grandparents had long left permanent scars on their psyches, passed down through alcoholism and mental illnesses. I was, perhaps, the first millennial to be born in the early 80’s. From the agitated loins of Generation X, one of my first lessons as a child was skepticism. Standing in my great-grandmothers kitchen with my mother sitting disinterested at her table, I watched them both as chickens poached in big pots on the stove and soap operas whirred on in the background. I never completely understood how the matriarch of our family could be so cruel, but perhaps the story can be told from her cooking. Piles of fried onion rings out of frozen bags from my great-grandmother’s freezer stick in my memory along with the anger and yelling that bounced down the halls of our houses. For every fight that my ancestors have had there was a pitcher of brown gravy under them on the dining room table. While other kids my age would open presents on Christmas with their wide-eyed families, mine was sprawled out hungover on the couch as my grandmother placed a stalk of celery in a crystal pitcher of bloody marries when they eventually came to. Perhaps at the time I was born from an inheritance that set me up for failure and doom, though I didn’t realize it at the time. How could I? I simply delighted in my innocence and the cares of being a child.

Looking back, however, the limitations and frustrations, mistakes and abuse that ran thick through generations of my family’s blood have made me somewhat of an anachronism in my own generation. And it was the women in my family who influenced my understanding, knowledge, and imagination in such a way that have caused me to be terribly skeptical and yet an idealist. Like any good millennial would do, I spent most of my twenties attempting to travel away from the pain of this place, away from the hurt that my family has imprinted in this marsh, but I have never seemed to be able to pull away. It’s as if the harder I have tried to leave the harder the tide has pulled me back. And I’ve many times been left angry at the moon, shaking my fist at it in despair and grief asking it to please just let me go.

In its refusal to let me go, I came to an understanding that my history and this place is together inseparable. As I raise my children and reminisce about my childhood with them, I comfort myself as I recall the detailed memories I have of the lapping salt water of the James that would smack up against the hull of our boats and the bluegill that tugged on the end of my fishing lines. Of the steaming smell of horse manure and polished leather in Mr. Hertzler’s old barn as I strolled around the stable petting the horses’ soft noses and memorizing the way the sunlight bent across the field in a dozen different way as they grazed on clover and grass. The movements and attitudes of the people who lived and worked in these spaces are etched into its scenery and my memory, forever interlocked.  This place has always been present to me in a way that lovers are to one another’s bodies; their lines, arches, curves, and markings are touched, felt, and memorized, dreamt of when they are apart. And I feel embraced and at home.

Sometimes I think that my generation struggles so much with loneliness, commitment and being stationary because they don’t have a place that is theres. They think that embracing the land that pushed them out of the womb is to be forgotten, something to leave, an embarrassment if they stay. When I think of the health and welfare of the earth, it’s warming and rising seas, I think about the stories that are being drowned. How we want to preserve the earth but not the earth of our youth, the places that represent who we are and which are pieces of the whole. An accurate picture of the earth is one where all of our places are connected with our stories and people, pain and love, betrayal and devotion, not separated and moved from, but embraced and committed to, holding to traditions while creating new ones. My whole life I have had the Tidewater before me and I am its first millennial. The one to stay and call it home, not leave and deride its milky thorns. My mind’s eye sweeps over this place and I recall its people, my people, its animals and native plants, their movements and gestures, all calling me home.

Above all, love

I’m learning.

Constantly through struggle. Usually after I’ve said something I shouldn’t.

That’s why I wouldn’t make a very good politician. But who knows. That’s what makes them attractive these days.

Saying what they shouldn’t and what immediately comes to their mind. Telling it like it is and all.

No matter the consequences. Or who gets hurt.

Yesterday I did that to my son. He was doing something I wanted him to stop but he wouldn’t stop when I asked him to. So I said the first thing that came to my mind, just telling him like it is, you know.

“Why do you have to constantly disobey, annoy me and get on my nerves?! Give me that toy and get out of my sight!”

I minced no words. He knew how I felt. Exactly what I thought.

He didn’t cry. He didn’t protest. He was crushed.

“Why are you yelling at me and being so mean, mommy?”

Indeed.

Me telling him exactly what I think and telling him like it is wasn’t refreshing. For him or for me. It was crushing. It was harmful. It was hurtful.

It’s what I teach him not to do. “Be kind. Think before you speak. Consider others before yourself. You can come second. Others can come first. Above all, love.”

And there I was standing over him with authority and power shouting down condemnation and unkindness to his beautiful face.

At his rebuke I broke. He shone a light into my darkness and I was exposed for who I am.

The bible talks a lot about how we speak, especially towards one another. With kindness. Gentleness. Humility. Truth. How I speak to my family and friends is one of my deepest struggles. My thoughts are always hanging on the rim of my mouth, jumping off at any moment of anger, fear, happiness, or loneliness, held captive by my emotions.

In all of his wisdom, Jesus tells us “I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak,” (Matt 12:36). Was this Jesus being a politically correct liberal baby telling his people to bridle their tongue and not just tell it like it is?

No.

Our words are powerful. We spend a lot of time condemning others for their use of profanity but for idle words? Careless, thoughtless, self-righteous words? Words that don’t care about the hearer and how they will be affected? Not caring how our words impact others? Jesus says that we will all have to account for these words on the day of judgment; our careless, idle, thoughtless words that harm others are all subject to judgment because God knows just how devastating our words can be to others.

And surely I will be judged.

Culturally, we have come to elevate thoughtless words, gossip, dishonesty, harmful words, sharp words that attack. All to tell it like it is. To communicate exactly what we think. It’s described as being refreshing and authentic.

Until we are the ones being harmed, mocked, attacked, derided, slandered, gossiped about, and torn down.

Then we hear Jesus’ words and understand how truthful and wise they are. I look at the face of my son, crushed and hurt by my careless and sharp words meant to harm him, and I am ashamed at my harshness. But thankful for his rebuke. How else could I see my dark blind spots if not for him innocently and honestly shining a light on me? What a gift. To be told honestly and lovingly that I have hurt him. He was the one telling me like it is. With love and gentleness.

And for him I am thankful. Brought to grace and forgiveness.

A memory of Dr. Seuss visiting my house as a young child

When I was a little girl, a neighbor down the street from my grandmother’s house used to come and read stories to me in her living room. I have no strong memory of his appearance or of his real name or which house he lived in on her street. Come to think of it, I don’t have any other memories of this man other than him reading to me on my grandmother’s very stiff floral sofa. For some reason I picture him in a white doctor’s lab coat and having a bald head, but who knows if that’s accurate, the memories of children. I called him by the name of Doctor and for a small window of time in my life Doctor would walk down the road in his white lab coat and come to read Dr. Seuss books to me. Ah, and now something has come bubbling back up! I remember him being Dr. Seuss! haha! I believed him to be the actual Dr. Seuss, the man who I called Doctor and who would walk to my grandmother’s house in a white doctor’s coat. I remember us having a special bond, Doctor and I, because we shared the same birthday, March 2nd, and how he’d joke with me that we were brother and sister years and years apart. That’s it. Now I remember it all so clearly.

My grandmother was very fond of Doctor. She talked about him wistfully and reminded me to be on my best behavior when he came over to visit.  “We shouldn’t be rude and waste the time of doctors,” she would say. After a knock on the door, grandma rushed over and let him in, offering him a glass of sweet tea and something to eat as she escorted him over to the rigid sofa to sit. I was shy and coy, not much different from how my youngest son is now, recognizing how very important he was compared to the likes of us. And then he pulled out a brightly colored hardcover book from the inside of his lab coat and asked me to guess what we were to be reading today.
Green Eggs and Ham!” I shouted with excitement. “I know this one!”
“Well then,” he replied kindly, “You can help me read it today.”

My grandmother sat neatly in her high back gooseneck chair with her legs crossed at the ankles, watching admirably at me and Doctor as he began:

I am Sam. I am Sam. Sam I am.

That Sam-I-Am! That Sam-I-Am! I do not like that Sam-I-Am!

Would you like green eggs and ham?

I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.
I do not like green eggs and ham.

Would you like them here or there?

I would not like them here or there.
I would not like them anywhere. 
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.

Giggling with the story and shrinking my shoulders together in laughter, it was me and Doctor and that Sam-I-Am. He was so kind and generous and wasn’t moved by my grandmother’s formalities. It was just him coming to read to just me, punctuating through my early memories of parties and fighting and arguing and drinking as a bright spot of laughter, love, and safety.

Such are books to children.

 

2016: The Year That I Got Free

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but if I were, I’d probably resolve to get into less Facebook spats. Probably try to be less pessimistic and condescending. And harsh. I wouldn’t be as harsh online. Tone back my opinions maybe, too. Hell, I should probably just stay off of the internet for all of 2017. My gift to you. Because I’m tired, aren’t you? Aren’t you just simply tired of all of the noise? Like, I get it. The world is on fire. Trump will be our next president. There’s a genocide in Syria. A massive war on drugs in the Philippines where hundreds of thousands of innocent people are being murdered in the streets. Racism is not just hiding anymore, but proudly out in the open and accepted. Oppression, injustice, sexism, hunger, disease, global warming, white privilege, homophobia, pipelines, abortions, poor mental health…. Serious issues, for sure. Add onto that pile all of our personal traumas and stories of suffering and why do we even go on? Maybe we should just end it all now…

You know, 2016 has been an interesting year for me. The things that I have struggled through are very menial in the grand scheme of the world. My oldest son is failing second grade. I was rejected from every doctoral program to which I applied. I quit my job. We struggled (ahem, are STILL struggling) with money because I quit my job. I had ups and downs with my own mental health. I walked alongside of friends in difficult situations. One of our chickens died. I chased another chicken down the road. Compared to years past, this one, for me, was really easy. And I feel bad even saying it. Doesn’t it feel taboo in our current cultural climate to confess that you may have experienced an easy 2016? Because, while there are many things that make this past year terrible, it feels as though if you aren’t caught up in the online political melodrama and activism of the moment than you just don’t get it. The sad part, though, is that I’ve said that exact thing to people. I’ve both suggested and flatly said that not speaking up online for injustice (or pick any other from the list above) then you are part of the problem. Oof. I have a lot of maturing to do.

The activism of the 2000’s is quite frankly falling flat on me these days. Every day there is something new to be appalled at. Something new to pop up in my news feed and call me to action, critique, and anger. The 24 hour a day news cycle that constantly feeds into our lives has created a fever pitch activism and pessimism and anxiety that really has startled and pushed me away. There will always be suffering and injustice in the world. Until Jesus returns we can count on it being there. We are called to bring it to the light, fight it, and care for those among us who are suffering and trampled on. But the way we do it in 2016? With facebook posts and online activism? Constant IV lines hooked up to the New York Times? Forgetting about our own local communities and suffering of our neighbors? I’m just not so sure.

The funny thing to happen to me in 2016 is losing interest in liberalism. I’ve really come to regard it as something of a shadow, a false hope, an empty promise, a lie, really. Somehow American neo-liberalism has sold us the lie that we’ve arrived. That because it’s 2016 we shouldn’t have people suffering anymore. That injustice should be over. And that if time marches on long enough that progress will eradicate it. And then we wonder why we’re all so anxious and actually believe that 2016 is the worse year of all time. Or believe that the election of Donald Trump is the worse case scenario for the world. Christian, let me assure you that we will be alright. Do you believe that? Do you believe that you are secure? That the world is not destined for hell and fire? I struggle to believe it. I really do struggle with believing that if we just elect the right progressive people we will be okay and can ward off suffering. I’ve believed this for a long time. And maybe you don’t think that progressives are the answer. Maybe you believe that if we just elect the right conservative people that suffering and injustice will end. Whatever. Do you see how neither get it? That neither are right? Neither are the solution?

Ah, but I’ve lost you. I can tell. I’ve stepped on far too many people’s toes and have far too ridiculous opinions for you to even bother with this post or perhaps even with me anymore. I need to pick a side and stay on it. Well, I should choose your side, that is. The right side. Well, I hate to tell you that I’m not really interested in your side. I’m interested in Jesus’. And what he has done is the antidote for our broken world. His death and resurrection is our antidote, friends. I know you don’t believe me. Okay, maybe you sort of believe me, but only if we act now and vote this way and do these things in addition to what he’s done. Well, that’s heresy, friends. Jesus is the answer. From the beginning, the world has been moving towards perfection and an end to suffering because and for Him. Nothing else. No matter how you vote, no matter how many facebook arguments you get into, no matter how much you disconnect or protest, the entire universe is moving towards perfection because of HIS work. Once I realized this the way I see our political and cultural moment changed dramatically. The less I believed the lie that my political party sold me. The less I trusted myself and my work and my activism. So, I serve the poor and work to fight injustice with a greater hope. I’m less likely to be completely defeated and anxious by daily news cycles. Why? Because I know that one day, when the Lord returns, that this mess of a world will be completely new and redeemed, not because of my work but because of Jesus’. And that’s the gospel. That’s the truth. I can find joy in this mess of a world. I can have hope and not despair. And I can offer you that hope, too. Friends, if I can call you that, you don’t have to look at our world and only see despair. It will not always be this way. We are free.

My Christian Feminism: On Being Complimentarian

It’s been some time since I’ve given a piece of myself in this space, anything personal. I’m not really sure why that is. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m fairly certain that I’ve kept myself at arm’s length because it gets kind of weird that so many people know me and my family so personally from what I write on here. Doesn’t it? What’s most difficult about that, besides the creepiness, are the assumptions that people make about me from the slivers that I give of myself. And a lot of what I communicate does paint a picture of me that isn’t accurate or isn’t actually all that true. For instance. Did you know that I am, in fact, a complimentarian? That I don’t believe that women should be ordained in the church? Like, are you kidding me, Ashley?  No, I’m not! How is it possible to be a feminist and believe that God made women and men distinct from each other and created to compliment each other through their different roles and responsibilities? I’m not entirely sure, either.

I’m constantly having to search myself and pry out any unbiblical stereotypes, biases, prejudices, and hierarchies that I create and believe, but because I do hold a very high view of scripture I do believe that there are truths about our genders and our roles in the church. I know, I know. I’ve disappointed you. It won’t be the last time. And it’s really why I try to avoid using the term in the first place. Too many people start coming at me with pitchforks and fire, assuming that I’m a bigoted patriarchalist. Because humans just can’t resist a good binary, of course. As if women and men can’t be distinct and beautiful and equal in their differences. That roles don’t create hierarchies; humans do. That the biblical view of gender is not a black and white binary, but a nuanced understanding that men and women are equal, though not interchangeable, image bearers of God. Christ-centered complimentarianism is not patriarchal. In fact, the biblical “headship” of men is not a call to domination, but to service, denial and death. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). There is nothing more countercultural and subversive than serving unto death. That is the call and responsibility of biblical headship. There is no domination, systematic oppression, or denigration. Taking away the idea of headship in response to the evils of patriarchy only intensifies the problems of sexism. Why? Because the biblical self denial and service that is demonstrated through Christ’s headship is subsequently removed, leaving room for the evils of domination and hierarchies to thrive and oppress.

What I have mostly been thinking about as I grapple with this liberal feminist identity that I’ve created for myself is that it is much more nuanced and complex than I tell people. I also realize that I am a walking contradiction. That I have views that cross both the church and the secular culture. And I think that’s okay. I think it’s, oh I don’t know, normal. I’m also unashamed to say that I believe submission is a good thing. We all are called to submit to others in some capacity and part of what I think us enlightened scholars believe is that it is the right of every human to never have to submit to anyone. How untrue and prideful this is. We are all answerable to someone, not least of all God. To lay down yourself for another in submission and love is a picture of the gospel. It is a humility that is honorable and good. It’s what Christ has done for us and what he calls us to with each other. It’s manifested in our different roles as men and women, children and parents, bosses and employees, congregants and elders. There is no room for hierarchies and oppression in the gospel. Only love. Only humility. Only service. And this is what God has engrained in his creation. And how beautiful it is.

Advent Week 3: The List of Things We Don’t Need

I know that I promised you all a Christmas gift guide for adults similar to the one that I made for kids a few weeks ago but for the life of me I can’t muster up any motivation to research and put it together. And can I be very honest with you? I just really don’t care about adult gifts. *gasp!* Okay, that’s not entirely true. I do really enjoy getting a gift for someone that they will truly love and to love them in a tangible way. I’m not entirely a Grinch! Though, if you were to ask me what I really want or need for Christmas I’m going to tell you that it’s a new bathroom vanity upstairs to replace the old broken one. Other than that, what I really want is adult time with close friends over wine and music and games. A long walk with my husband. A dinner out with my in-laws. Bowling with my nieces and nephews. Sitting next to a fire pit and drinking bourbon with my neighbors. Those are all on my list for this Christmas. All things that if you are a loved one of mine I’d love to receive from you – your time.

There are so many things pressing on all of us to do and give to each other during this time of year. There are so many expectations that bind our hearts at Christmas that we need to be reminded of the 5 things that we don’t actually need:

  1. Guilt | You don’t need or want it, but every year there it is. We may not realize it, but we’ve all deeply internalized that we should have and actually deserve all that of the things that we could ever want. We’re so afraid of disappointing and being disappointed by what we won’t or can’t buy our loved ones that we grossly over spend, over extend, over eat, and manipulate those for whom we want to make happy. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can be content with what we give, what we have, and what we don’t receive. It is okay to embrace the spirituality of this time of year and resist the lie of materialism’s guilt.
  2. Debt | It’s okay to say no. You don’t have to get everything on your children’s Christmas lists. You can stop purchasing. You can give to others yourself, your time, your love, your energy without pulling out your credit card and spending outside of your means. You really are free to give and receive modest gifts!
  3. Perfection | It’s inevitable that someone is going to be disappointed, feel sad, annoyed, hurt, or sick during the holidays. The table cloths won’t match. An antique glass will get chipped. A family member won’t show up. The apple pie won’t set. And it’s okay. It’s normal. It’s expected. Please log off of pinterest. Stop looking at other people’s Christmases and enjoy your own. Our hearts need rest from the constant comparisons and unrealistic expectations that we put ourselves through. I can guarantee you that when you begin to loosen the reigns of what you are holding tight to, whether it’s perfect holiday outfits, minimalism, daily advent studies, perfectly grateful children, that you will begin to love and appreciate the humble birth of Jesus and be moved to celebrate with a thankful heart.
  4. Self Absorption |  I hate to tell you, but Christmas isn’t all about you, your family, your friends, your traditions, and your expectations at the expense of others. Some of the best memories I have at Christmastime my children think are so not important. There have been a few holidays where I’ve forced my family to participate in old traditions that they just don’t appreciate or enjoy, so we’ve had to start new ones! Some we have kept, some have been molded and changed, and some have fallen away. But what’s important is that we love each other and those around us. It’s okay to give Christmas away for others and to loosen our traditions and expectations. Putting pressure, guilt and shame on others during Christmas is not generous and kind and far too often marks this time of year.
  5. A Gospel-less Christmas | We need to hear the story of Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection at Christmas. The glory of the Lord has been revealed to us and we don’t have to live with guilt, debt, the crushing pressure of perfection, self-absorption, and secularism. We can look to the stable and the cross, the life and divinity of Jesus, the heavenly host, the joy of our salvation, and rejoice!! Celebrate! Be free this Christmas!

The True Sign of Gospel Faith: Doing Justice

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the immigrant*, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” -Zechariah 7:9-10

Justice. Mercy. Kindness. Righting the wrongs of the world. This has always been on the heart of the Lord and has been his ambition from the beginning. The quartet of the vulnerable, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, and the poor, are those who God constantly reminds us for whom justice is due. They are those who are systematically and consistently oppressed and whose rights have been removed. God does not call us to see that they are treated equitably. No. That’s not enough. He wants to see them receive justice and requires that we, his people, administer it.

When you think of injustice, to what do you think? Where does your mind go? If there’s one thing that westernism has imprinted on our collective personalities, it’s individualism. Because to us injustice usually operates in the individual. We tend to believe that it’s our individual choices that lead to injustice in our own lives and don’t tend to acknowledge or want to believe that there are communal, systematic injustices working against large groups of people. If someone wants to get out of the projects and off of government assistance then they need to pull up their bootstraps, get a job and make better choices. The same is believed for the immigrant needing to integrate into the larger culture. They need to learn English, take off the hijab, and, again, get a job. Actually, many of us believe that the answer to injustice, if we actually even believe that there is injustice, lies in getting a job. As if working is the magic bullet against oppression. Well, perhaps it is.

Throughout scripture, God continually and directly instructs his people to administer justice to the quartet of the vulnerable. The work to end oppression is not in question here. It is directly required by God. And it is not an individual effort; God does not expect individual people to pull themselves out of their vulnerable positions. That would be cruel and ineffective. But rather, God expects communities of people, including and especially his own, to actively work to right oppression and to administer justice. And all of a sudden the finger is pointed directly at us and we must consider if we are the ones who are not working to right the wrongs of the world and are instead insisting that others do it themselves.

Why might this be? Why might we be so prone to not see the faces and hear the voices of those who have been wronged? When we do see them, why then do we loathe victims of oppression and injustice? Why do we wrongly cast blame and instead focus on our own perceived injustices? Why is it so hard for us to see our places in systems of injustice and to acknowledge the requirement that God gives his people to administer justice?

I have a few theories that come from beliefs that many theologians and philosophers have chewed on and offered over the centuries. Nicholas Wolterstorff believes that: “Sometimes we are overwhelmed by the fear of what we would have to do if we genuinely saw and heard; so we block out the sight and muffle the sound. And sometimes our frameworks of conviction lead us to discount the significance of what we see and hear. We regard the one before us as a candidate for charity, should we be so inclined; or we insist that his condition is his own fault. We resist acknowledging that the presence of the other before us places claim on us, issues to us a call to do justice.”

And so here we are. Resistant to God’s call to administer justice to the vulnerable in one way or another.

In Matthew 25 Jesus gives us a picture of what it looks like to have the sign of true gospel faith. The picture should startle us.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” 
-Matthew 25:35-40

The Christian community is one that Jesus says invites in, takes care of, feeds, clothes, and visits. It is a community that relentlessly pursues the vulnerable and cares for them. Why? Why is this the community that God has created us to be? Well, because it’s who he is. Look to the incarnate Son of God and to cross if you wonder why. He became poor, hungry, thirsty, a stranger, a prisoner, and naked! This is how far God is willing to go to identify with the most vulnerable of the world: He became vulnerable and he did it for us, the spiritually poor and bankrupt. And he makes it perfectly clear that when we care for those in our midst who are poor and vulnerable, we are caring for him. When we see the beauty of how the gospel embodies the care for the vulnerable through Jesus, it will come spilling out from inside of us and compel us to respond to God’s call for us to administer justice. It’s a call to serve our Lord. It’s the sign of true gospel faith.

If you feel convicted and compelled to give your time and resources to an organization that is working to administer justice to the immigrants in our midsts, please consider contacting and giving to the following organizations:

Carry the Future
Reestablish Richmond
Commonwealth Catholic Charities
We Welcome Refugees
Outreach Africa, Inc.

As the gospel moves you to faith, please consider how evangelism and social justice go hand in hand. What is it that you don’t believe about the gospel? How have you failed to love those around you with a complete understanding and embodiment of the gospel? To love our neighbors and our communities is to share the gospel of grace and to help them with their pressing needs. Showing Christ’s love is both physical and spiritual. To only evangelize and fail to meet the needs of those around us is to fail to show the completeness of Christ’s beauty. Because Christ embodies both. The gospel embodies both. And so too must we.


*I am following Tim Keller’s footsteps and translating the Hebrew word gare as “immigrant” rather than alien or sojourner. Modern American readers don’t really use those terms and they fall flat to us. The word gare means “outsider living in our midst.” To the modern reader, that is translated as immigrant. So, that’s the word that I use.