Remember when we could wear sweatpants to the airport? I am not talking about matching sweats; I am talking about actual sweats – gloriously hideous, older than sin, and terribly inappropriate for public outings, sweats. I decided I am too old to deal with fancy airport runs, requiring matching clothes, make-up and hair, and thus entered JFK a few weeks ago, in my sweats, dirty white Chucks, a thermal and a scarf that doubles as a wool blanket. It was not pretty.
When I arrived in Charlotte, and felt Emily Post turning in her grave, I remembered a quote from one of my heroines, Eleanor Roosevelt…
Go ahead, you can post this. I made it for you. It’s a good word. I didn’t even put my website on there, because I hate when I find something on Pinterest and have to crop it perfectly so all that extra crap isn’t in the photo. You’re welcome. And yes, I give photo credit. I’m not an internet savage.
Back to how seldom people think of us, I took a break from social media for a few weeks. No one called me to tell me to stop playing, and get back on the internet. No one sent me a text saying, “ASHLEY! HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO US? I CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT YOUR POSTS!” No one emailed me and told me to get my head in the game.
No one cared (including me). A little break helped me reflect. Oh friend, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we are consumers by nature. Mentally and spiritually, we import more than we export, and because we’re digesting information at a rapid rate, we are unable to retain, reflect, or reason effectively. I personally hit a wall, and I think I’m still standing in front of it, trying to figure out how to feel about all the information I’ve read and seen and heard. This year has been one wild ride, from top to bottom, and I’m still reeling, standing in the middle of what sounds like clanging instruments, with nothing but a ring in my ear and a stunned look on my face.
Sometimes, I just play Hungry Babies for an hour, or binge watch the Crown, or stare at Instagram, to escape, but it’s not working; it’s only burying. Trying to resurrect what I’ve shoved underneath my chest proves more complicated than just dealing with myself in the first place.
Bottom line? I’m having trouble breaking through the noise.
Your noise might be different than mine, but for me, with all the news stories, systemic racism, gun violence, refugee crisis, poor education systems, classism and gender inequality, Neo Nazis being named “Alt Right”, global war, and what my friend is calling a civil war in the church, I don’t even know how to process reality, much less determine my place in this great divide we face as a nation. Not to mention that several times here in NYC, someone has judged me as a racist fundamentalist solely based on the fact that I am a white, evangelical pastor, thanks to the post-election polls, and probably Tomi Lahren. My roots do not go deep here yet, so shortly after meeting someone, especially a community leader, I make sure my stance on diversity and racism and BASIC HUMAN LIFE is clear, just in case they’re already looping me in the wrong category.Right or wrong, I haven’t been proud of my skin color this year. And I sure do hesitate to tell people what I do, saying “I work in community development”, rather than “I’m a pastor.”
As another minor window into this pain, I went to a restaurant recently, and the young waitress should probably find another job. After she messed up our order, we playfully teased her, and she said, “Well, this black lady just cussed me out, so it can’t be much worse than that.” I thought to myself, what does her race have to do with anything? Why was it even relevant? It cut me like a knife. I didn’t say anything, which is unusual for me, and I’m sorry I didn’t. I was in my hometown, and I wondered if this young woman inherited her ethos, if racism hides in her home, if superiority will always dominate her perspective.
What are the things we are all accidentally teaching our children?
There are some things we must refuse to inherit. There are values and beliefs, cultural standards and expectations, given to us, that do not stand under the weight of scripture. We cannot afford to yoke our lives to any value system that is against the heart of Christ. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Our skin color, as one example, does not make us superior, or inferior, to anyone; it was a choice at creation, from the loving hands of a God, who, with the heart of a Father, fashioned us beautifully, as we are. I love when Dr. John Perkins says, “There’s only one race: the human race.”
It’s been quite a year, and who’s to say what’s ahead of us? Light is breaking through dear friend. I know you have labored. I know you have cried. I know you have ached and groaned and some of you are tempted to lose hope. It feels like we’ve gone backwards, but I am reminded that media and politics do not dictate the dominant narrative. There is another reality, and the Spirit of God, the Ancient of Days, the Alpha and the Omega, is still in charge of the narrative. He’s swelling at the margins, his love breaking out along the fringes. He is Justice. And His story ends with restoration, reconciliation, a table with room for everyone, and a deep abiding love. He is tried and true; He will come through.
Do not give up now. Do not surrender. Fight to stay present. Put down your phone. Turn off the news. Laugh. Play. Eat. Listen to a child. Bare your soul to a friend. Open your arms to others. Bring good news to the poor. Serve somebody. Reflect. Ask yourself questions – the hard ones. What did you inherit? What is God leading you to do about that? Who do you need to forgive? What do you need to stop? What do you need to begin? Do you have any close friends who don’t look like you? Who’s eating at your table? Who’s dwelling in your home? Meditate. Don’t worry; worship. Pray. Read and study. Share and give. Serve. Lead with love.
Let’s make a commitment to stand against injustice, against invisible barriers, and words that wound, against value systems that benefit some, but not all. Let’s be vigilant against the noise, tenacious in our refusal to be carried along with the popular current. Together, may we resist the desire to numb out, and learn to live fully alive and present in our days.
17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. 2 Corinthians 5:17-20