I am a white woman in the United States who has spent the last few years becoming painfully aware of my own racism. I wish I could go back and apologize for all the idiotic things I have said and done that centered whiteness and white culture. I am trying to do better. I am still stumbling.
But I know that it is on me to teach my children to see the world differently. And so yesterday, on Martin Luther King Jr. day, we sat down as a family to watch a few educational videos about Jim Crow laws and the Reverend himself.
And I asked the girls a simple question: “What lie did the white people believe about black people?”
My youngest spoke up: “That they were bad!”
“Yes, that they were bad. But a lie even bigger than that. A lie that went back to slave times. These slaveholders had to tell a lie to make slavery OK in their hearts, when their hearts probably told them it wasn’t. So they told a lie that black people were lesser people. In fact, when the government needed to count how many people lived in an area, a black man was considered 3/5ths of a white man.”
I watched my girls’ eyes get big. They couldn’t imagine one human being counted as 3/5ths of another.
“And that lie told the slave owners that black people who were less than they were, were also less smart, less worthy, less dignified…less everything.
“They told that lie to themselves until they believed it. And they told that lie to their children and their children believed it. And they told that lie to their children and their children and laws and systems and governments were built on that lie. It is a lie called racism. The lie of racism simply says one race of people is less than another – one race of people is better than another. It is a lie that has such far reaching consequences, we are still dealing with it today – many people still believe this lie.” (Darin joined in here to talk about the Charlottesville protests. But there are many examples you could offer.)
And I needed to be even more honest, “See, here’s the thing: even though your mom and dad know it is a lie that black people are less, sometimes even we fall for it. We have to work hard to unlearn this lie because it is hiding in so many places we don’t know about, or can’t see. And we have to unlearn it by teaching you that it is a lie. And it is a lie – because we know the truth. All people are equal.”
We had lots more conversations about lots more topics during our learning time together yesterday, but this is the conversation we need to keep having over and over. We need to teach our children to teach their children to teach their children the TRUTH. This is the only way to take away the power of the lie.
It’s a good phrase. It’s an important phrase. It’s something we teach our children to say when they need to acknowledge wrongdoing and work to restore a relationship. It’s something many adults need to get better at saying (and meaning) without qualifying with a “but” or an “if.” And that definitely includes me because I’m not very good at admitting when I’m wrong.
But I’m awfully good at saying I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I didn’t know that.
I’m sorry to bother you, but can I ask you a question?
I’m sorry, was that in your way?
And I’ve got a couple of amazing coworkers who are also really good at this kind of apologizing.
I’m sorry I forgot what I was saying.
I’m sorry, that story was really rambling.
Sorry, were you sitting here?
The experts tell us that while we may be innocently attempting to keep peace and avoid conflict, this kind of apologizing can not only damage our careers, but also our self-image. We do not need to apologize for a lack of knowledge, for taking up space, for opening our mouths. We do not need to apologize for existing! We do not need to use apologies as conversation “smoothers,” to cushion whatever blows might befall those around us. We do not need to apologize when a simple “thank you” or “excuse me” will due. We do not need to apologize when what we really need to do is stand firm in our convictions.
So I’ve been joking with my coworkers that I’m going to institute an “apology” jar around the office. Sort of like a swear jar, we’ll each have to put $1 in when we’re caught in an apology.
Or when, like happened a few weeks ago, our boss even asks for an unwarranted apology. My boss (who also happens to be my sweet husband, so that’s an interesting dynamic) was suggesting some phrasing for an email I was sending to his boss, and his wording included an apology. I did not feel the apology was warranted, so instead of saying “I’m sorry that I didn’t know X” I wrote, “I just learned X” and continued with the email. It wasn’t hard to turn that phrase and I was still polite and respectful in my email, without diminishing myself in the process.
And even if I can’t make the general public give me $1 for an unwarranted apology, I’m not going to accept them so easily anymore either. At the Evolving Faith conference I turned around to tell a new friend how much I enjoyed listening to her gorgeous voice sing harmonies in my ear that afternoon. Her response to my gratitude and compliment?! “I’m sorry,” along with a sheepish lowering of her head.
“Nope.” I laughed. “That’s not how this works. That is the wrong answer when someone gives you a compliment. The right answer is: thank you. Let’s try this again.”
And we did.
And this time she smiled, and said, “thank you” instead.
How about you? Are you an over-apologizer? Do you have tips or tricks for those of us trying to break this habit?
Maybe we need to hear more about sin than forgiveness. And maybe we need to hear this from women.
One of the biggest news headlines this week is the sentencing of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor. If you may not have heard, Rosemarie Aquilina, the judge who presided over the case had some strong words for Nassar as she handed down his sentence. Aquilina appeared as a victim’s advocate all week as she responded with words of comfort and courage to each survivor who appeared in her court with an impact statement. “She called them “sister survivors.” She told them to push away nightmares. She thanked them and said their voices were heard. That they were not alone” (source). And as the proceedings wrapped up, Judge Aquilina told the media she would not be doing any interviews, “It’s just not my story” (source).
While Aquilina has garnered much praise for her approach to this case, she is not without criticism. Many say her words to Nassar at sentencing were too harsh, crossed a line, and showed favoritism. In this #metoo reckoning our country is undergoing, I can’t help but wonder at what would have happened in that courtroom had another judge presided. I have read countless testimonies (this is a good primer) on victim-blaming that occurs at all levels of our justice system and is a primary reason why many victims do not come forward in the first place. The courage the gymnasts presented, and the support they received from the bench, will likely prove another wave in this turning tide.
One of the early tweets I read as Aquilina’s comments were being made public stuck out to me saying, “We need more women in positions of power. Everywhere.” Of course the first few responses were reminding the tweeter that several people complicit in Nassar’s abuse were women, but the heart of the comment still stood. Representation matters.
I am still learning the nuance of the conversation around #metoo, and I am putting my foot in my mouth time and time again as I learn. Trust me, it hasn’t been pretty. But in my humble opinion, women who have the back of other women are to be championed. And I want to be a champion.
The other big news headline catching my eye this week was the continuing evangelical support for President Trump, despite new allegations of an affair with Stormy Daniels. In particular, in an interview with CNN, Jerry Falwell Jr. proclaims the faith of evangelicals is based on the idea of forgiveness and “that is why evangelicals are so quick to forgive when he asks for forgiveness for things that happened 10-15 years ago.” First off, I’m not convinced Mr. Trump asked for forgiveness, but secondly, I think our obsession with forgiveness may just be the reason we prop up abusive leaders and dismiss the pain and trauma of victims.
Can you imagine if Aquilina had looked at every survivor and reminded them that Nassar had apologized and their job now was to forgive? That the only way for them to move forward was to forgive? Yet this is what pastor after pastor has done to women who sit in their offices exposing the truth and asking for help.
It usually goes something like this, “Well, the Bible says that we are all sinners and that while we were in our sin Christ died for us. Christ died to forgive all of us. Out of your gratitude for Christ’s forgiveness of your own sin, now you are asked to forgive others. We pray it in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And then the victim and abuser are brought together for a time of reconciliation. And we hear the stories and decide to stay silent.
The damaging thing here is, as Rachel Held Evans notes, there is a grain of truth to this theology. “Central to the Christian message of salvation is the scandalous good news that Jesus Christ sets both the oppressed and their oppressors free, that there is grace enough for both of them. Christians are indeed called to forgive, even when it is costly and undeserved, and Christians are indeed called to work toward healing and reconciliation even when its hard.” But there is an equal truth to be addressed: sin is a destructive and pernicious force that only grows stronger when swept under the rug. We need to boldly speak the language of sin, or the power of grace means nothing.
So I ask again, what would it look like if we had more women in positions of power?
And what would it look like if our preachers spent more time on sin and repentance than on forgiveness? What if we learned the old art of penance? As Barbara Brown Taylor notes, we dispelled of the notion of penance in the reformation because it had become a box to check and it smacked of works righteousness. But, “penance was not punishment. Penance was repair. Penance was a way back into relationship” (source). When we sin there are consequences that are far reaching. And we must acknowledge and work to repair those harms as acts of true repentance. Again, Brown says, “repentance is not complete until confession and pardon lead to penance that allows community to be restored.”
We teach our children that an apology isn’t enough to restore the relationship. They must show that they are repentant. They must work extra hard to act in a kind or generous or loving way to make up for the hurt their sin caused. They have to do their sister’s chores for a week to make up for the sinful way they responded when they were angry.
Why do we not ask the same of adults? Why is it that an admission of guilt and an apology is enough? It isn’t. It shouldn’t be.
So yes, we need more women leading our churches and preaching to our communities. Calling us to account and pushing us towards the hard and painful work of self-awareness. Prophesying what we do not want to hear: sin runs deep here and it must be named and atoned for. And we need to hear again and again and again, in the powerful words of John the Baptist: “REPENT, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.”
I see it in myself and I see it in my children: the need to hoard, to hide, to keep for myself. For me it’s the fancy bar of toasted coconut dark chocolate. For them it’s been a piece of gum or the oven-bake clay received in an Easter basket. It is this attitude of this belongs to me, there is not enough to share, if I share with you I will have less for myself.
I have never been one of those mothers that has forced my child to share with other kids. There is a lot of good chatter here on the interwebs that this is not the best policy because it teaches children that they can just demand their way and another child will be forced to give in. Instead at playdates I tried to encourage my children to be aware, to take turns, and to be sure they tracked down the child who wanted the toy when they were done with it to pass it along. I taught them to ask politely to “please can I have a turn when you are done with that” instead of demanding another child share.
And I walk that fine line of sharing when it comes to parenting siblings as well. (Let it be known I did not have siblings at home with me growing up so often I look to my husband for extra help in this area. Sibling stuff is so foreign to me!) If one of my daughters has received a gift that her sister is interested in, we have a lot of conversations about respecting that it is her new thing, and I’m sure she will let you have a turn soon when the novelty wears off, and down the road when your sister has a new toy you want to check out she’ll probably remember today and how you responded to her desire to check out your new thing. In general I am really proud of how my girls have taken this to heart and regularly share with one another and with other friends too.
But it is a bit trickier when they have consumable items like gum or clay. Because the reality of sharing a toy is really different than something that will actually get used up and mean there is less for her. For years I have taken the approach that selfishness breeds selfishness and generosity breaks that cycle. “Remember,” I tell them, “you don’t have to share your gum. But next time your sister has a pack of gum and you want a piece I can almost guarantee that she’ll think back to today and refuse to share because you didn’t share with her. But you can break that cycle today by deciding to be generous. I’m not forcing you, this is your decision. I’m just letting you know my experience of how this will play out…generosity tends to encourage generosity,”
That’s the thing about this world isn’t it? Our human nature is to hoard, to keep, to protect because we fear there is not enough to go around. If I don’t protect my own interests, no one else is going to. I am not immune to this! I am not at all interested in sharing my $9 bar of gourmet chocolate with a daughter who thinks Hershey’s bars are the best chocolate on the planet. And if I give a square of fancy chocolate to this sweet girl, who certainly won’t appreciate it like I do, there is one less square for me.
But then there’s Jesus, and in his topsy-turvey, upside-down, Kingdom-world we are told that God is a God of abundance. Just look at the way Jesus turned the offering of a few loaves and fish into a meal to feed a crowd with 10 baskets full of leftovers. And in Luke 6 Jesus promised us that generosity will be met with generosity: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap…” A measuring cup filled, pressed, shaken, and topped off to running over: that is abundance.
I think a lot of challenges facing our church today are rooted in a genuine fear that there is not enough. Not enough money, not enough parishioners, not enough love and grace to go around. So we put up walls and rules to keep us safe and guarantee we have enough to survive. Meanwhile people are starving just outside our doors.
Friends, I write this to myself more than I write it to you. I preach a good “abundance” sermon but I don’t practice it too well. I stress about my savings account and my fancy chocolate bar and my comfort and security regularly. Generosity does not come naturally to me, selfishness does.
And yet selfishness does not yield good measures.
Just the other day my youngest daughter proudly recalled how she had shared her penultimate stick of gum with a classmate. “Mom,” she told me, “my friend knows how gum helps her concentrate when she is taking a test but she didn’t have any. She asked me for one but I only had two pieces left. At first I wanted to tell her no, but then I remembered what you keep telling us about that…you know…that thing where there will be enough…”
“Abundance?” I ask.
“Yeah, abundance,” she says. “And so I gave her a piece of gum and she was so happy and thankful that I just felt happy all the rest of the day. I was really proud of myself and had good feelings about what I had done.”
If that isn’t a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, I don’t know what is. May we truly live in such a way that we believe in a God of abundance and give generously.
My Baby is Having a Birthday and I’m Feeling the Ache
Note: This post originally appeared on my personal blog July 2014. I am sharing it three years later, this day my baby is turning 8. The ache is raw again today.
Once more it has happened, another year has gone by. And here it is: that ache that seems to be ever-present in my Mama-heart. An ache I am learning to live with, but that becomes almost palpable on these dates that mark the changing of a number. From four, or even four-and-a-half, to five.
And dear Dani, I think you feel it too. We are not together on this momentous day as you are off at Gran camp with your sister and your cousin, but last night on the phone when I asked you about your last day as a four-year-old, you cried because of that ache in your heart knowing something is past. Something you loved and treasured and aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to, is over.
You cried for the year that was over.
You cried for the knowledge that you were done with preschool, done with dear Miss Cindy and your carefree hours and your precious friends.
Your heart is tender dear girl.
Your heart is fierce.
Your heart is generous and loyal and kind.
And your heart knows the ache.
But here’s the thing I’m learning about this ache of ours: we can mourn over our loss but we can also rejoice at what is to come. So I do my best to take a few moments to be sad, to miss the little baby and toddler and preschooler you were. To look through a few pictures, and laugh at your antics in some home videos.
And then I say a prayer of thanks, step back from the nostalgia, and dream of what’s ahead. Knowing the ache will be there in the background, I have to choose to wonder with joy and amazement at what is next.
And this, your year of being 5, I’m pretty sure is going to be awesome.
So I won’t let the ache overwhelm my heart today if you promise to do the same.
We have just under a month left before summer break, but I know for my friends in the south that means you have even less time. So today I’m sharing my favorite end-of-year teacher gift that has been excitedly received by our teachers the past few years. We have been blessed with amazing public school teachers that give and love and teach my kids in wonderful ways that we could never ever repay – but this gift is simple, thoughtful, homemade, and practical and a winner in my book.
A quick pinterest survey will yield hundreds of ideas for teacher gifts, some small and simple, to more extravagant. You’ll find posts from teachers telling you what they really want (cash, lol!) and cute stickers you can download to put on a bottle of wine. But I wanted to create a gift that was a real blessing after a long year of work.
Enter: the new mom meal. You know how new moms are blessed with dinners from friends and family members as they adjust to life with a baby? Well, what if we made a meal for the teacher to bring home the last day of school? A nice dinner so that she can relax, put up her feet, and have one less thing on her mind that day?
Here’s how to pull it off:
1. Email the teacher a few weeks before school is out. I let her know that our family would like to bless her with a dinner for the last day of school, but if there is another day that works better we are flexible. I ask about allergies/preferences and how many people will be eating the meal. (This past year both our teachers were grandmas who lived with their husbands, so I only had to prep for two, but the year before Dani’s teacher had three teenagers at home so I made a bigger meal.) Confirm the time of day for drop off as they may have after-school meetings, but are likely able to put things in a staff fridge until they are ready to go home.
2. Decide on what you’ll cook. One of our current favorite recipes is this healthy broccoli/chicken/rice casserole so that’s what we made last year. (And I planned ahead and made three casseroles at once so we had one to enjoy too.) We decided to add a nice roll of bread, some fresh berries, fancy chocolate bars, and fizzy drinks too.
3. Purchase tossable containers so the teacher knows she doesn’t have to return anything to you. As an extra bonus, we added paper plates, and plastic silverware wrapped in napkins. The fewer dishes the better!
4. Cook what you need to cook and package it all up. I used an aluminum baking pan but a box would work just as well. (The first year we did this gift only Daisy was in school and I bought a cute cooler tote to package the meal up in.)
5. Print cooking instructions. Last year I downloaded this printable and added our meal instructions to the menu. I think it turned out really cute.
6. Let your children help deliver the meal and enjoy the feelings of a special gift given and received.
One last thing: to make the gift extra special have your children include a thank you note. You can download adorable fill-in-the blank ones (what I’ve totally done) or practice writing skills with a traditional note.
There you have it: our very favorite teacher gift. Let me know if you decide to do something similar this year and how it works out for you.
First off, a disclaimer: I am no expert. There are men and women who have been working and protesting and community organizing for many years and I am most certainly a newbie. So the thoughts and questions and conversations here are not polished and not really written from much experience. Rather, they are a humble offering to you as a result of searching for the words and stories to help educate my own two budding activists. In addition, these are words offered from a Christian faith and worldview that to our family is the foundation for all we do.
When plans for a women’s march in my local city were announced shortly after the 2016 Presidential Election, I knew I had to be there. Feeling naïve and frustrated and powerless and frankly scared, putting my feet and my voice to work seemed at least some small action I could take to voice my feelings. I wanted to bring my daughters with me, and my husband also asked if he could come and support the cause.
As we are now a week away from the event, I decided it was time to have some of the why conversations with my daughters. And also to prepare them for what they might see and experience along the march route. I went searching online for some resources, and came up pretty empty-handed. (If you have resources that I didn’t find, PLEASE leave them in a comment and I’ll include them in a list at the bottom of this post.)
As a family, our Christian faith deeply influences our choices. And it is from this perspective that I want to enter into a protest march as well. So here are a few conversation starters I put together to share as a family as we prepare to march. You do not have to be Christian to use this material. In addition, these are humbly offered as starters, if your children are anything like mine their questions and insights will lead the conversation to beautiful, challenging, and humbling places and may even offer you more opportunities to learn together.
A few notes before you dive in:
These conversation guides are written for my family, of which I have myself and my husband (both cisgender) and two school-aged daughters. Feel free to adjust the conversations and the questions for your family dynamic, these are simply a starting place. For example, if you have older children you could talk about sex trafficking or female genintal mutilation. You could also share this resource with your older children and encourage them to pick one and lead a family conversation.
These conversation guides are written specifically for the women’s march taking place January 21, 2017. But of course they can be adapted for any protest your family may be involved in.
You do not actually have to be taking your children to march with you to have a conversation with them. Actually, you should have a conversation with them if you are going, they need to know why this is important to you. And if you are unable to attend at all, these are still great conversations to have because this protest is a news-worthy event.
Ask: In what ways are girls/women treated unfairly here in America?
Ask: Have you ever felt treated unfairly because you are a girl? or Have you ever treated someone unfairly because she is a girl? or Have you ever witnessed a girl being treated unfairly because she is a girl?
Ask: What does the phrase you throw like a girl mean? Is it meant to be a compliment? Have you heard any other phrases that insult girls like that?
Ask: How do you think God feels about people being treated unfairly?
Study a Bible Passages: How Jesus treated Women (chose one or more)
Ask: Why is it important that boys and girls, men and women, everyone, is treated fairly?
Discuss: One of the reasons for marching is that when a large group of people get together, the leaders in charge learn what is really important to the people they serve. To us, it is important that women are treated fairly. That women are treated with justice here and throughout the world.
Ask: What specific message would you share with important leaders about how or why girls should be treated equally?
Make: Create posters together with the important messages your children want to share.
Or here are some suggestions for posters/signs with Bible verses about justice:
“Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like an never-failing stream.” Amos 5:24
“Hold fast to love and justice.” Hosea 12:6 (partial verse)
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” Proverbs 31:8
“Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly” from Micah 6:8
“Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.” Proverbs 22:8
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9 (As quoted by Hilary Clinton in her speech following the election results.)
Conversation #2: Signs and Symbols
Activity: Google search “Women’s March Poster Ideas.” Look at the images together. (You may want to pre-search and be prepared for what you’ll find. There are images of women’s bodies, including breasts and reproductive organs. There are posters with the word “pussy.” There are other terms they may not be familiar with. As your children will likely see posters of all types at the march, having conversations ahead of time will prepare you all.)
Ask: What images/messages appeal to you? What images/messages are confusing?
Discuss: You are in charge here with what you want to share with your children about the messages being promoted.
Note: There are likely march partners with views not shared by your family. How do your values influence how you should treat people with differing views? Can you still march together? Can you find common ground?
Conversation #3: Protest as Disruption
Ask: What do you know about the protests of the civil rights movement? What activities did they engage in? (Suggestions: marches, sit-ins, rallies, boycotts, etc. Overall, they were peaceful activities.) What do you know about the leaders of the civil rights movement?
Watch: this great video from Kid President about Martin Luther King, Jr. Also, I haven’t watched it but heard from a great source that this full length movie, The Watsons Go To Birmingham, is a great primer on the civil rights movement as well. If you have older children, Selma is an excellent movie to watch together.
Discuss: Martin Luther King Jr. is a famous leader of the civil rights movement. But he was also a Reverend, or a Pastor. Reverend King’s faith influenced everything he did, including the work he did to fight for civil rights. He had faith and prayed and preached about God’s love for everyone. His belief in non-violence to promote change was based in his Christian belief that we are to love our enemies and forgive those who hurt us.
Ask: How should our faith influence us to work for change when we see things that are wrong?
Ask: Will it be easy to fight for change? (This would be a great time to remind your kids that they will likely face some challenges on march day, that they will be tired and hungry and that their feet will hurt. Ask them what they should do when they get tired and want to give up.)
Discuss: Fighting for change is hard work and takes a lot of time. And you may have people who disagree with you. Powerful people didn’t want the change that civil rights leaders were fighting for, and powerful people never like change because that means they will have to lose some of their power.
Ask: What does the phrase “speaking truth to power” mean to you? How does that describe protesting?
Discuss: Protest is about interruption. Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable or angry because it interrupts their comfortable lives. Remember, we are gathering with a large group of people who have permission to shut down areas of a city and walk on the road. This will interrupt people who had plans to drive on that road! But God is no stranger to interruption: that’s what God did with Jesus. Jesus came to our earth to interrupt our comfortable lives and teach us how to love and serve him and one another.
Ask: How would you respond if someone argued with you that you shouldn’t be protesting?
Pray. Spend some time this week praying as a family. And pray as you head out for the protest. And then when you get home.
My prayer for you is that this sparks within you a hunger to learn and to grow and to engage in healthy dialogue around issues that matter to you and your family. May you have courage to invite your children into the journey with you.