Where There is Smoke

The mountains have been burning. I live in Atlanta, and for days and days just north of here there has been a forest fire. The mountains that I can get to in just a short car ride are burning. Someone told me this was happening. There was one lone voice on my Facebook feed who had been shouting for months that there was a drought. She showed pictures of scrawny cows. She had grave concerns that this was going to land us in a fire situation. I mean, I guess I believed her. I knew that I should probably be praying for rain. When I thought about it I guess I realized that the dog park was a lot dustier than usual. Mostly, I didn’t think about it, mostly it wasn’t affecting me.

A few days ago the smoke finally reached my city. You go outside and it smells like a camp fire, but also like factory smoke. You stay outside and your lungs burn. I heard on the radio today that the air quality has been rated “unhealthy for everyone.” You come back inside and your clothes and hair smell like they did some late nights in college. You didn’t smoke but most of your friends on the speech team, and that cute boy you liked did. So you went outside when they needed a cigarette and you came back into your dorm room reeking as if you had lit up yourself. Everything smells like smoke. My lungs burn. Didn’t my friend tell me that the mountains were on fire?

I knew that the mountains were on fire, but I didn’t really know. I didn’t get it. I read somewhere that it is very very hard for the human brain to understand suffering we don’t see, that it is difficult to understand experiences that we have only heard about. I saw the skinny cows. I knew there was a drought. I knew this could lead to fire. I knew, I mean, I had heard, that the smoke was coming. I didn’t really understand until my lungs were burning.

I think I could say the same about Brexit. Some of my closest friends live across the pond. They were shocked and horrified that their country voted to exit the EU. They were stunned that people they knew and loved voted on the fear of immigrants and people who did not look like them. My British friends were looking at the rise of Donald Trump. They began telling me it was possible in America, that the same conditions, the drought of racially charged hate and fear, and brushing away of “it isn’t that bad” may very well lead to a fire. I shrugged. This couldn’t possibly be happening.

My friends of color tried to tell me of the fires they had seen in their own life. They tried to tell me that the mostly safe America with the occasionally bad racist person was not the America they knew. They tried to tell me that I knew more people who were going to vote for Donald Trump then I thought I did. They tried to tell me that their were more people than I thought who would ignore and explain away the racist vitriol as ‘just talk.’ I guess I knew that they maybe had a different perspective than I did. I saw maybe pictures of their reality, but I didn’t really understand. They told me how things were getting uglier and uglier. They had seen the fire, I still had not smelled the smoke.

The days following the election, I could finally smell the smoke in the air. I thought of my daughter’s kindergarten teacher who wears a hijab. I worried about my black friends in mostly white classrooms. I saw the terrified faces of my classmates. I hugged my LGBTQ friends. I processed my own feelings of betrayal. I opened my eyes to how many people in America were still totally unwilling to have a woman in the office, no matter who she was running against.

Because of my position in society I still do not see the fire very often, just moments of it here or there. But I can smell the smoke now. The breathing of it burns my lungs. I can smell the smoke and I am committed to not shutting myself indoors and hoping it will go away. I am committed to watching closely and better understanding. I am committed to praying for rain.

When this is a Plea for Compassionate Conservatism

I grew up in an evangelical church, and one of the biggest gifts it gave me was the gift of learning how to do my part. We had special offerings for the heifer project through Sunday school and VBS, spent youth group Saturdays painting homeless shelters for women and children. The church I grew up in taught me about sharing what I had, giving joyfully so that everyone would have enough, being lead by compassion to make the world right. Whether it was raking leaves for widows, or making blankets for foster kids, I learned early and often that I was the hands and feet of Jesus.

I never really understood the rolling of the eyes when my liberal college friends talked about compassionate conservatives. That wasn’t an oxymoron as far as I was concerned, that was the truth of the people who raised me. They were conservative, yes, but they were the most caring compassionate people I have ever met.

As I grew older, my views became more liberal. My story is the opposite of the crazy liberal in college, move more conservative in my thirties trope. But still I believed in the compassionate conservative. My relatives, the people in my church, my friends from high school all wanted the same things I did, good schools, good jobs for people, families able to take care of themselves, accessible health care, we just disagreed on the best ways to go about those things. They were conservative, these friends of mine, but only because they honestly believed that was the best way for all of America to flourish.

I was shocked when Trump won the election because I didn’t recognize any of my republican friends and relatives in the things that he said. I assumed they weren’t voting for him. I thought they were as horrified as I was. I grew up in the Ohio and Michigan area. I went to college in Indiana where I  met and married a Hoosier from a very small town. The people I am talking about, the ones who raised me, I know statistically many of them did vote for Trump, and I am struggling mightily to understand how that could be true.

81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. This statistic is cited often in my house, as we look astonished at the results of the election. I do not understand how the people who taught my Sunday school classes and told me to love my enemies would vote for a man who led chants of “lock her up” and “build a wall.”

I wrestle with the idea that very many of the people who taught me to be kind and good and loving voted for Trump, I am hoping that the same people who taught me how to be compassionate, will demand from this president a compassionate conservatism. I am hoping that the people who taught me to use my words to love others will call out the hateful speech of the men the President elect is surrounding himself with. I am praying that the silence I am hearing is just them rounding up the troops to demand a better way.

I still want to believe in compassionate conservatism. I still want to work with my conservative friends, but I need them to speak out against the very things they taught me to abhor.

Compassionate conservatism would speak out against Steve Bannon. If you don’t know who he is, who the alt right is, then go ahead and Google it. Or you could hear it from Kristen, who was harassed by the Breitbart crew in way that are horrendous and inhumane. The man said he was down with being Dark like Satan. Where are my compassionate conservatives calling this out?

Compassionate conservatism would have serious reservations about Jeff Sessions. They would be horrified at the idea of an attorney general joking about the KKK and using the N word. They would say that this is completely unacceptable.

Compassionate conservatism would love refugees, especially Syrian refugees. I spent so much of my youth being told to pray for the 10/40 window, to pray for God to make a way for the muslim stronghold to be introduced to Jesus. It is unfathomable to me that the same people who had me on my face crying out for the souls of the world, now want those souls to return home. This is the chance for us to show them who Jesus is, to let them experience the love and welcoming of Christ.

Compassionate conservatism makes room for other people’s fear, even if they do not agree that there is a need to be afraid. My dad called me after the election. He had heard from my sister that I was crying a lot. He just wanted to tell me it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. I told him I was afraid because Steve Bannon was being pegged as the chief strategist. I told him of sometimes getting emails that tell me that someone hopes my kids get raped. I told him of how much worse it is for other people. He didn’t laugh and tell me I was over reacting. He told me he loved me. He told me he was praying for me. He told me he would try to protect me.

Compassionate conservatism would be seriously concerned that people with disabilities are worried about the repealing of the Affordable Care Act. I know the act isn’t perfect. I know there is a lot wrong with it. I know it is against a lot of conservative ideals. But compassionate conservatism would want to make sure that the access to health care the ACA granted is maintained to everyone who needs it. Compassionate conservatism would want to make sure that everyone has access to health care. It would find a fiscally conservative way to do that.

Compassionate conservatism would be loudly against hate crimes and derogatory names. Compassionate conservatism would not answer my real fear that my LGBTQ friends, my kids teachers, my friends of color, are being harassed with a “you know Trump supporters are being yelled at too.” They would hear the fear, they would sit with people they do not agree with and hear them out. I know because I have seen them do it a hundred times over.

I learned about loving my enemy and praying for those who persecute me from the compassionate conservative community that raised me. I learned about speaking up for what is right and making sure that everyone in the room is being taken care of. I learned from my compassionately conservative tribe how to love and care for all, even when you disagree or don’t understand.

I am grateful for those lessons, lessons about turning the other cheek and being the hands and feet of Jesus. They have shaped my heart in ways I treasure. I am grateful that love and making things right was taught to me from the beginning.

But I am wondering where that voice is now? I have been calling my congress people to voice my concerns about hate and anger and the people who Trump is surrounding himself with. But I am aware that my voice may not hold much clout. I am a left-wing lady at a liberal seminary, who lives in the heart of a blue bubble in a red state. I don’t really identify as evangelical anymore.

With 81 percent of the Evangelical vote going to Trump, I believe that my old tribe is in a unique place to maybe make a difference. I am asking you to hold the line for compassionate conservatism. I am asking you to practice what I have always heard you preach.

On Letting Go

I have a friend at church who likes to smile at me when I tell her I don’t want to study. Two years ago, on Sunday evening, she usually sat next to me at Bible Study and she watched me ugly cry all over myself as I realized I could not teach any longer. She watched me howl as I realized I was going to have to do it one more year. She looks at me on Sundays now and asks me if seminary is sweet for me. She tells me how sweet it is for her, to watch me move into something new, something that does not make me cry in despair on Sundays.

Those Sundays I was crying it wasn’t just about that I did not want to go back to work. It was that I did  not want teaching to die for me. I didn’t want it to die. I did not know who I was or what I was going to do if it died. I was a teacher, I was good at it, people needed me. What would happen if I didn’t do it any more? But I couldn’t do it anymore.

And I said goodbye for a whole year. I tried to slip out. I tried to avoid my goodbyes. I tried to not have to deal with the leaving, the dying, the letting go. Last year was hard, but it was a total gift to me. I walked out knowing that this was the end of the road. I loved my students well and hard, but we didn’t abandon each other. We looked at each other and told the truth. I needed to let go on purpose.

And I said hello this fall. To a new thing, to a new situation. I know for many people the first year in seminary is hard, it is a letting go of a lot of things. It is crying and begging God to show you who you are. I am not experiencing that. I am experiencing a mentor who tears up when he tells me he has been praying that me and my peers would come for a long time. He says he has been waiting for us. I am undone by this. I am undone by the thought that even as I was afraid. Even as I did not want to let go. Even as I wanted to leave without letting go, God was preparing a place for me.

If you are in a season of letting go, please know I am praying for you. But more than that, please know that the space you have right now is not the only space ever for you. If you are being called to leave, you are also being called into a place that God has for you.

Scarcity and Seminary

There is an interesting thing that happens in graduate school, especially if you go on to doctoral work. You show up having always been one of the smartest three people in your classes. Only now, everyone else has also been one of the smartest people in their classes. If you are just really smart, but not stand out smart (because you are in graduate school and everyone is stand out smart) sometimes you are a little unsure of who you are or why you are there.

Most people are at seminary because God has called them there, explicitly, through soft pushes, strange circumstances, or clear and definitive direction and prodding from God, they have been called. And some of us have some of ourselves, our egos, our identities wrapped up in that calling. So when we get to a place where everyone else is also called, it can feel scary. Maybe I am not favored or special anymore.

This, my friends, is a lie from the pit. Scarcity says that if everyone else around you is a thing then it takes that thing away from you. That simply isn’t true. Just because everyone else around me is a lady, doesn’t mean I am not totally a lady. I am a lady. The same is true for other things.

If you want to get really good at something, generally you find yourself in a place where everyone else around you is also good at that thing. You know who is at writer’s conferences? Writers. Teachers conferences specializing in pedagogy? Teachers who really care about their pedagogy and are trying to get better at it. Brilliant nurses are at nursing conferences, and artists all hang out together. These places don’t have to be about competition. They can be about collaboration, about learning to do and think and understand with people who care about whatever you are into just as much as you do.

It feels like scarcity is the only choice when there are only so many book deals/internships/chances/first place prizes. I suppose that is true. I suppose some of the shiny gold stars are scarce. But the growth opportunities and connections are totally abundant! They are.

It is GOOD NEWS that a lot more people than you are doing the thing. It means you are not alone. It means this thing matters and you only have to be responsible for your part. Abundance is real, and we can find it even amongst people who are searching for the same thing as us.

I’m Not Here to Save Anyone

I am at the Mudroom writing about social justice I write about my first few years as a teacher a lot because I want to save other people from the experience. Y’all. I really, really thought I was going to change the world. I really thought they just really needed me. I needed my eyes opened. I got them, but that should not have come at the expense of my kids learning. 

The year I showed up in a classroom in an urban High School in south Atlanta, was the year after the movie “Freedom Writer” came out. I know this because the kids called me that as though it was my name.

“Who you got for English?”

“Freedom Writer!”

I acted annoyed and told them I was younger and cuter than Hillary Swank, but secretly I was pleased. I was there to save them. I was there to bring them their freedom, show them a better way. Maybe I was hoping to be a little more edgy, like Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds, but they saw me for what I was hoping to be.

I was hoping to be the white savior. I was planning on it really.

Spoiler Alert: The white savior figure isn’t real. We already have a savior, and I am never it. Instead of spending the year winning over hearts and minds by showing up with brilliant lesson plans and a hear of gold,

I learned that I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t even close to enough.

Read the rest here. 

The Evangelical Men I Know

I was lucky enough to be raised with an abundance of good men in my life. Not just my father, who was deeply insulted any time someone asked him if he was longing for a boy (even after the three daughters, then the seven grand daughters all in a row). He would reply, we LOVE girls. Who wouldn’t want another girl? Not just his father, who I saw cry once over the lack of care he was witnessing to one of his granddaughters. There have been just so many good men in my life.

There were especially a lot of good men in my church, the brick church named after the road it was built on. These men were just like that church building. They were strong and welcoming. They drove mini vans and helped put up tents, and rode bikes next to girls who were kind of slow going on the trip through Michigan. They told us we were strong. They were encouraging and made sure we too got a turn with the power drill on the deck we were building in Appalachia. They were kind and caring and treated us with dignity. Even when we had to ask them, red-faced, to please stop at the next gas station because a 14 year old’s period can be kind of unpredictable. They were good men. They weren’t flashy about it. They just were.

I was raised in a church more conservative than I am now. These men that I speak of have more conservative theologies than I do now. While we sometimes disagree on exactly what feminism is, or the point of it, these men continuously modeled to me what a good man looked like. They encouraged their wives in their dreams, they advocated for the women’s shelter in our town, they relentlessly poured into the boys and the girls in the youth group. They loved us well. They loved me well. They made it easy for me to find a good man, like them. I married him. I had two daughters with him. He loves us well.

Once, in college, I was back home working at a country club. I was assessing how much coca-cola we had in the stock room which was attached to the “men’s only grill.” I was crouched down and counting, when I head the comments. It was also being assessed, at least my backside was, as well as the bodies of all the women Tiger Woods had slept with. I finished my job. I stood up and turned around, only to be confronted with a man from that very church. A father of one of my peers in that very same youth group. He occasionally drove the van. We both blinked at each other before I scurried out, mortified. He wasn’t mortified, he was angry and my boss got an earful about how there was a woman present in the men’s only lounge. He wasn’t embarrassed he had been objectifying someone who could be his daughter. He was angry he got caught in a space he believed it was safe for him to do that.

I was shocked. I wasn’t shocked that this happened. I had been in mostly male spaces a few times and I knew that men talked like this. I was just naive enough to believe that Christian men didn’t talk like this. I was naive enough to believe that my church was a place where men who objectified women were taught differently.

I was fourteen when the Monica Lewinsky scandal came out. I was embarrassed watching the news with my parents, but ever the educators they took it as a teachable moment. This isn’t okay Abby. Treating women with anything less than respect isn’t okay, especially when you are in power. Especially when you are the president. I know this to be true. My church, while never overtly political, mentioned that this was inappropriate behavior both from a married man, and from a man with a lot of power.

I haven’t heard anything from my very specific tribe, but it breaks my heart evangelical men who have endorsed Donald Trump, men who while I disagree, I believed respected women as fully people, as full image bearers of God are standing by him. They are brushing his comments aside. They are brushing his accuser aside. I know that I am late to the party, but I still don’t know what to do with this information. I don’t know what to do with the information that the same men who took Bill Clinton’s unacceptable treatment of women as an opportunity to teach me that it is never okay for a man to use his power for his own sexual gratification at the expense of a woman, are now saying this isn’t a big deal.

I guess I was hoping that wasn’t about politics. I guess I was hoping that was about basic human decency. I guess I am shocked. These are not the evangelical men I know, but apparently they exist, and my heart is just so dissapointed.

 

 

Is My Calling Worth the Cost?

Hey there lovely readers! My life is totally insane right now. And I had a sick kiddo yesterday so that throws everything completely out of whack. AND I had two things published on the same day. Yesterday I shared the piece from Off the Page about living in God’s Economy, and today I have a confession over at SheLoves about just how scared I am some days.

I think it is really really important to share the messy middle part, and I think this is the part the Christian narrative leaves out the most. We tell the excited beginning, we for sure witness to the triumphal end, but the middle when you are looking around wondering if you are the only one who has no idea what they are doing? We skip that part. I don’t want to skip that part anymore. I think that part is best done together, telling the truth.

This last week things have been hard, and I seriously thought about calling it all off. I am not going to, but I thought about it. …..

“But you seem so confident!”

You have no idea how many times I have been told this in my life. Pretty much the exact same amount of times I’ve been shaking in my boots. Apparently, even when I’m terrified I still present as confident. I both love and hate this about myself.

I have spent the last month or so celebrating my entrance into seminary. I quit my job! I’m leaning in! I’m what a lady preacher looks like! And I’m very proud of myself for answering the call, for chasing the dream, for following hard after my God. I am proud.

On the good days, I’m sure this is what I should be doing. On the days where I have an epiphany in class and go on to tell my husband what I learned about the Old Testament and we read the Bible together and our minds are blown, on those days I got this. I am so sure. I am so sure I should be doing this. I am so sure I was called by God.

Here is my confession: Most days are not good days. Most days I am a little less sure. Most days I am cooking, not cleaning, picking kids up, doing some writing and always, always thinking about how I should be studying. I’m often wondering if now is the time.

read the rest here.