Black children are our most valuable possession and our greatest potential resource. Any meaningful discussion of the survival or the future of Black people must be predicated upon Black people’s plan for the maximal development of all Black children. Children are the only future of any people. If the children’s lives are squandered, and if the children of a people are not fully developed at whatever cost and sacrifice, the people will have consigned themselves to certain death.
Sunday before service started I told Nate Noonen that the sermon was hard for me, hard in the preparation. I told him it was harder for me than the words appeared to me on the page after I’d written it.
Usually I try to move beyond a sermon when it’s over. I know that many preachers find this difficult, even if by virtue of our work we, simply, have to go off to the next thing. I learned from Dallas Willard how important and ministry nurturing it can be to move along, to keep going, and to not get stuck in a sermon.
It can be a tempting thing to linger over what we say as preachers. Aside from our easy proclivity to esteem ourselves, we can also lose sight of the purpose of the sermon. It’s purpose is, in part, to move people to action.
Lingering and action contrast. The best sermons are worth lingering over, returning to, hearing again, and they somehow move us to act, to be in the world, and to be different in the world.
For me, moving beyond Sunday’s sermon has proven particularly difficult. I invited the church, our intentionally multiethnic church, to listen to and learn from the life of Hannah, a sister in the first testament who spent years asking God to remember her, asking God for a son. Most of us don’t embrace the real experience of waiting while asking for the same thing. I personally find it’s more efficient to keep going. Especially in terms of injustice and other topics that prove our country’s lack of growth, conception, and productivity.
As part of the sermon, I gave a few names of people that I think our church folks would be tutored by in our work of reconciliation. These people “came up before me” during my sermon preparation the weeks prior. They aren’t, by any means, an attempt at a longer treatment of the question. Of course this was in the same message that I offered my personal and hard questions about why that ministry of reconciliation is even important and how hard it is despite its biblical relevance. Hannah is answering some of my personal questions these days.
My brother, David, has offered a wonderful resource on the topic and related themes of reconciliation in the form of an annotated bibliography. You need to read it here.
At Nate’s request, here are those names of people I mentioned. I characterized them as contemporary renderings of 1 Samuel 1-2, fully realizing that these folks themselves would use other words to describe their work. Thanks for asking, Nate Noonen.
- The writings and work of Audre Lorde whose poem, New York City, I read as a contemporary version of our scriptural passage (1 Samuel 1:1-20)
- The writings and work of Peggy McIntosh
- The writings and work of Patricia Leary
- The writings and work of Tim Wise
- The writings and work of Ida B. Wells
- The writings and work of bell hooks
- The revolutionary suicide post on Dr. Melissa Harris Perry’s blog was to be my second contemporary version of the text but I didn’t have the time to include it; it’s here.
I messaged Dawn after the initial interview. Then we talked. She was feeling fine and was headed to a planned prenatal appointment. I breathed as if for the first time.
We spoke about the interview but I couldn’t put more language out of my mouth. I had talked for more than hour and didn’t have the energy to rehearse much about it. An hour later she texted that she was having contractions. She was calling the midwife she had seen earlier. I was waiting for the report to come back at that time, waiting to hear if I passed.
After I passed and told her, we strategized and, for my part, to quell my fears. Then I got in the car to return home. I called her an hour later and couldn’t get her. I called back and she said she was going to the hospital which was 2 blocks away from her job. I was still fine, I was speeding by then in Wisconsin where they love out of state plates. Still, the hospital is there for that reason.
I had already told my coworkers that I might need them to intercept her and wheel her down the street. I had already asked Uncle David to be on notice in case I needed him. I actually introduced Dawn to hospital security for this very reason. I was going to have some notice, though, in my original vision. Dawn decided to pass by all that; she walked alone. Both of us, in two different places, getting ready for what was next.
I called her later and she was in the middle of a contraction and couldn’t speak. I drove faster, feeling an opening of possibility that I couldn’t be with her for the labor. She texted from triage. I was still too far. I called her mother and asked her to get to the hospital. Traffic stopped just outside of O’Hare. Literally stopped. Still, I end up beating my mother-in-law there.
That morning I had gone around, deliberating and then exhibiting how I am when the unplanned happens. That was a feature of my committee appearance. I talked about how nothing in pastoral practice is truly known ahead of time. I remember thinking about a practice of faith. True pastoral ministry is usually unpredictable. That truth was actually happening that morning and it was happening as Dawn walked to the hospital and while I sped to meet her.
I arrived at 4:50PM. I smelled of sweat from the whole day of meeting and waiting and driving and hoping. As soon as I walked in, Dawn says, she felt an intense contraction. She said that our baby knew it was safe to come. I looked at the clock and got to her side as she called to me.
She was laboring and had been. The posture felt familiar but it was different than with Bryce. It was bright outside this time, daytime. With Bryce I was there from the early signs and throughout. Labor started at night. I remember everything going very slowly. This time things moved swiftly, intensely.
Dawn held my hand, and I remember thinking that breaking all those laws to get back was redeemed in that moment. Especially if I would make it out of there with my hand bones intact. Our second son, Brooks, came at 5:37PM, and as you can imagine we were thrilled. It was the predominant feeling in the room.
I wasn’t thinking about the day when he came. Of course, being a part of a quick laboring process doesn’t afford you the space to reflect. That’s why I’m writing this now. Holding those two “moments” of preparing for and getting through candidacy, on the one hand, and returning to Dawn and being a part of the welcoming committee for our son, on the other.
They sit near each other as mirrors in a way. Two events full of potential and promise. Two events full of fear and hope. Two events with people who are involved to bring someone new forward. Two events that are, in different ways, destabilizing, constructive, constitutive, and reforming.
Candidacy and fatherhood are words that belong together. Of course, they speak to each other’s tentativeness and humility. They return to the other the truths of vulnerability and preparation and work and tirelessness and tiredness. They sit intently together, those words, like two brothers enjoying each other’s company.
The morning of April 1st I woke up at 3:30. It was one of those moments like years ago when, as a seminarian and pastor, I got out of bed at 2:30 and knew I wouldn’t return to sleep.
So, like back then, I got up and got ready for the day. Before I actually went to the church. It was a payroll week and I started going through the file and reviewing some other accounting material.
This time, I had planned to wake by 4:30 because of the drive to a Wisconsin meeting. I was scheduled for a 9am committee appearance to discuss my application to become an ACPE Supervisory Candidate.
A second step in the supervisory education process–the first being readiness–candidacy is the designation that students have after exhibiting in written materials and during an in-person consultation that you 1) are a clinically competent spiritual caregiver and 2) that you are increasingly ready to take on the potential of supervisory practice.
After a successful appearance, candidates are able to provide supervision of students, under supervision of your training supervisor, but without that supervisor being in the room.
It had been planned for a while. I had submitted my materials to my presenter, the person who would introduce me formally to the committee through a written report, and to the committee itself. Each gets a different set of materials about a month before the committee appearance.
We had known that my appointment was a week prior to the due date that we expected our second son to be born. All along I told him that he could come at any point after 5pm on Friday. “Preferably Sunday,” I told him, “but after time after 5pm Friday is fine.”
That morning I got up, checked on Dawn as the plan called for, and she gave me the “I’m not in labor” sign. I left the house at 4:15, drove to Wisconsin, and watched the sun rise shortly after crossing the state line. I spoke to my supervisor as I drove up to the site a touch more than an hour before my meeting.
We talked about the presenter’s report. He spoke to my anxieties and clarified ways to think about one of the five main questions the presenter suggested as conversation starters. The plan was for me to sleep for a spell before things started.
The interview lasted for one hour and fifteen minutes. By custom, the committee started with the basic wrangling over the facts in the report, got my corrections, and began to discuss my materials. Then they asked me where I wanted to go with things. That’s a rough summary. Each was its own series of exchanges.
For the entire time, I was working, going back and forth, following five people’s logical questions about my practice of pastoral care, my self-understanding, my ways of grieving, my pastoral identity, and my ways of relating to God. It was thrilling and unsettling and opening and revitalizing. It was an open invitation to explore what I’d do with students in clinical pastoral education.
With my training supervisor silent behind me, I disclosed things about myself and my history. I laughed with them. I felt tears in my eyes. I thought about my relationship with God and how it’s changed. I went around and around as people added questions to previous questions. I clarified and felt stuck and re-worked and paused. We listened to each other, but mostly those folks worked me over in order to gauge my competence as a pastor.
It was a presentation of myself in a room of pastoral educators, and it felt like a room full of being heard, understood, and accepted. I wasn’t defensive but free. I remember liking that feeling and wanting to pass it on to the other arenas in my life. I remember thinking that being in this process so far has given me the desire to be free.
The purpose of the committee was to exhibit pastoral competency. I did that. I thanked them. I was grateful and tired. I hadn’t slept those minutes beforehand because I saw people and talked.
I passed. They brought me back after almost an hour of discussion where they prepared their official findings. They read the committee action report to me, answered questions as I raised them, and congratulated me. They also consulted with my supervisor for forty-five minutes without me being in the room. That process is in place for anyone meeting candidacy committee. Four of my colleagues went through the same process that day. We all passed.
I’m posting quotes as we go through the fuzzy zone of being new parents again in these next days. This quote comes from bell hooks (Where We Stand: Class Matters, 6):
While the poor are offered addiction as a way to escape thinking too much, working people are encouraged to shop. Consumer culture silences working people and the middle classes. They are busy buying or planning to buy. Although their fragile hold on economic self-sufficiency is slipping, they still cling to the dream of a class-free society where everyone can make it to the top. They are afraid to face the significance of dwindling resources, the high cost of education, housing, and health care. They are afraid to think too deeply about class.
Grief is a mixed and dangerous behavior. It is mixed because of its unpredictability. When you grieve well, you surrender to ignorance. You don’t know what you’ll do, which way you’ll turn, or how you’ll act.
There is no map for the terrain in that area. There are hints of light and markers of how others have travelled that world. But those are only markers, only signs that keep us from believing we’re alone in our peril.
It is true that grieving is isolating, but as we grieve, God keeps us looking long enough to see how many people surround us. And we adapt to our way of getting through it. We may even surprise ourselves. “I didn’t see that coming” or “I can’t believe I said that.”
Upon inspection of our selves—when we monitor our souls—we see our behavior in that moment as an instance of grief, a mixed-up flash of pain on display. Grief is mixed.
And it is dangerous. Grief changes you. To put it better, loss changes you. When you lose, you grieve, and it is the tearing that turns you into someone else.
I think I’m starting to wonder about how people have lost in life before I wonder whether I can trust them. I’m generally a cool individual. I don’t let people get rises out of me. I function mostly by keeping my energy on reserve. But I open to people who lose. I am primed toward people who express that loss.
Not in every case, but it’s incredibly helpful when I meet a person who is in touch with her losses, acquainted with his grief. Because that contact keeps a person honest. Being close to anguish keeps you humble.
It helps you maintain your proximity toward the ground. You stay at the ground of your being and you stay near the earth because, plainly, you’ve put someone or something you loved in that earth. And when you’ve placed a significant other in the ground, you look at that ground with new wonder.
That is change. You look at the world differently. You see something that wasn’t there (for you) before. And that’s dangerous. Being changed and being able to change is miraculously dangerous.
Last month me and Dawn spent a few days in one of my favorite places. I was able to introduce her to Portland. We visited the spots I wanted to see with her.
We walked in the cold rain around Pittock Mansion and drove through several sprawling gardens, getting lost for a while or finding some place based upon my memory from the last time I was in town 2 years ago.
We ate well, having our first meal in a pod, outside, and complained not once the food was so good. Well, Dawn complained about one meal, but that wasn’t bad odds for the four days.
There was the Multnomah falls and all the other falls along the historic highway. We took pictures. We talked. And we both noticed how unseen the native (American) influence was.
I hadn’t expected it, but we lamented how Portland with all its culture and local emphasis did not have an equally outstanding something marking the history of first peoples. Perhaps we had to get to the Tillamook this or that. Admittedly, we didn’t see everything. But we were aware of the absence of that part of the story.
It seems common that we don’t tell our full stories. Our personal stories, our communal stories, our national stories. Is it because telling the shinier parts is easier? And is it also still honest?
The victor gets to publish his account. The last one standing gets to record her recollections. The one with connections gets to edit the final draft.
I wonder how differently the world would look to us if we saw it from the underside, from more sides. Even in my remembering our trip, I don’t want to recall the tough talks between me and Dawn or the time I got lost when I was alone coming from downtown because I refused to use my phone. I’d rather recall the nicer parts. But I wonder how it would be to recall more or what happened.
What if our conversations kept going until we listened for the feelings under the words and not just the words themselves?
What if we didn’t end a meeting until we heard from every person, even if the participants passed on using the floor?
What if our theology and our ethics and just a tad of our governmental policies were written from and championed for those under the bottom?
What if we stayed until we heard more from more?
What if we walked through hard paths and beautiful paths?
What if we guarded one another along both cliffs of joy and trails of tears?
Last month I had the opportunity to visit my mentor and father-friend, Dr. Johnathan Alvarado, on the occasion of his 50th birthday. His wife, Dr. Toni Alvarado, invited a collection of colleagues, parishioners, friends, and extended family to a party. I stayed for the full weekend as we celebrated him. I had the chance to represent those who JEA have mentored over the years—in my case, nearly 25 years.
The weekend and the writing of my reflection ahead of it gave me an opportunity to bring to mind all the things which he’s been to me, to my marriage, and to my family. His (and their) exemplary ethic in the practice of wise, enduring, faithful, intellectually responsive, and Spirit-led ministry mark me in my attempts to do similarly. I’m part of the fruit of his life. I’m part of the estimate of his leadership.
Bishop Alvarado shares me with other people who’ve mentored me. He and they are regular parts of my growth. As I described his impact upon me, I couldn’t help but visit my own ministry, teaching, and service to the world. I couldn’t help but question my own family life when I heard his daughter (their youngest) speaking so lovingly about her dad.
Bishop Alvarado esteems others well, and to participate in a public affirmation of his life was splendid. To review–even in my own life–how his life mattered and how his effort provided a currency for our own development as a person was of double benefit. It underlined my sincere appreciation that he is alive.
Listening to earned tributes has that impact on a person. You hear and you want to emulate what you hear. I want the estimates of my leadership to sound and look and feel like those did in December. I want to be the husband, father, leader, pastor, educator, caregiver, and writer who loves well and is loved well. I want to see the estimates of my leadership as I lead and to count them worthy.
Parents of black male children know that the world poses a much greater danger to our sons than they do to the world. We raise our black sons to be aware of their surroundings and to know how they are being perceived–whether they are shopping in a store, or walking down the street with a group of friends, or even wearing a hoodie over their heads. After hearing what happened to Trayvon as he was walking home from a store wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles and ice tea, I was once again reminded of what a dangerous world this is for our sons. And I thought about Trayvon’s mother. She sent her son on a trip to visit family, only to have him fall victim to the unfounded fears and stereotypes grafted onto black male bodies. Something must be said, I thought, about what is happening to our black children, especially our sons. This book is my attempt to do that.
From Kelly Brown Douglas’ Introduction of Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God
Perhaps I am a cynic, but my uncomplicated conditioning and my deep-down knowing about the ubiquity of racism remind me that the invisibility of a symbol is not the same as the absence of racist hate. I have had numerous interactions with white folk in nice suits, who would turn their nose up at a “redneck” racist, who share the same views but don’t literally wear it like an ornament around their neck. It’s 2015, it is not okay to wear your racism on your sleeve (or your t-shirt), but that doesn’t mean it is not still carried around. And that is what worries me. Deep-seated, hidden, structural, institutionalized racism is just as (if not more) dangerous as out in the open racism because we don’t always recognize it or see it coming.
…In a moment when some faith seems to dictate that some black folk need to forgive (and forget) while some white folk stubbornly hold on to a flag and revisionist version of history that condones their racism and insistence for white supremacy, we have a lot more to worry about than whether or not the rebel flag will live on. What we know for sure is that nine churchgoers who went to study the bible last week won’t.
Racial oppression doesn’t occur in a vacuum so it cannot be neatly or conveniently taken down (or away) without the residue, implications, consequences and permanent scars of its existence, and neither can the confederate flag.
Go read the rest here.
Thank you, my sister, scholar, teacher, proclaimer of truth, Dr. Robin Boylorn.
All things come to an end;
small calves in Arkansas,
the bend of the muddy river.
Do all things come to an end?
No, they go on forever.
They go on forever, the swamp,
the vine-choked cypress, the oaks
rattling last year’s leaves,
the thump of the rails, the kite,
the still white stilted heron.
All things come to an end.
The red clay bank, the spread hawk,
the bodies riding this train,
the stalled truck, pale sunlight, the talk;
the talk goes on forever,
the wide dry field of geese,
a man stopped near his porch
to watch. Release, release;
between cold death and a fever,
send what you will, I will listen.
All things come to an end.
No, they go on forever.
Grant me the patience to notice grace in every ending and may strength be there too. Amen.
The year we got married we made a lot of decisions. We purchased a fixer-upper. We had to get a car. We built a garage and searched for a lawn mower at the hardware store my father sent me to over in the Back of the Yards.
We also completed a budget together, elected an executor of our estate, little estate that we had as twenty-three year olds, and chose agents to make healthcare decisions for us if and when we couldn’t make those decisions for ourselves.
I selected my brother Mark, both because I trust my brother and because I didn’t want my wife to be in that situation. Mark will answer his phone and talk through the implications with a medical team, with my wife, with a cool demeanor. Mark will make sure I’m cared for.
I wanted to plan ahead and put that responsibility on my brother’s shoulders. That advance directive is still in place. Mark decides for me if I can’t decide for myself. He communicates for me if I can’t communicate for myself.
At a recent family dinner I reminded everyone of this. We were actually celebrating my mother’s birthday last fall, and I took the moment to nudge my loved ones to plan in advance. I told them that I didn’t want to live in a prolonged state if I had been oxygen-deprived for longer than 10 minutes. I gave specific instructions, in the presence of my family, to my brother and to the others. Mark’s the agent but they all heard about my decision. Again and again, I will remind them that there are wishes I have regarding my medical care. I will refine those as I go and certainly the longer I’m in healthcare as a chaplain.
Today is national healthcare decisions day. I went to a program about it here at the hospital. Randi Belisomo spoke about her organization, Life Matters Media, and talked about the simple and important process of choosing an agent. Of course, as a chaplain, I walk through the steps of this simple process with people. I witness their completion of the healthcare power of attorney form. And sometimes I get to tell people how vital it is to do this simple thing.
If you don’t choose a person to speak for you, the law has answered your lack of choice. The law puts surrogates in place when you have not chosen. Someone always speaks for those who don’t speak for themselves. So, today, if you haven’t chosen a person to stand in your place, to communicate for you what your medical care should look like, and how aggressive those interventions should or shouldn’t be, consider it. If you need to update your form, the form generally opens with something like, “This Power of Attorney Revokes All Previous Powers.” You can change it at any time.
Consider your feelings and thoughts on these matters, taking the opportunity to involve your family in your thinking, in your care, and in your planning. Communicate your wishes to your loved ones and to your agent, and realize that this is a good way to communicate what you want so that that doesn’t have to be decided for you. Document it on your state’s version of the healthcare power of attorney, and these don’t have to be notarized or done by an attorney, as long as you have a witness who isn’t named as the agent. You’ll want to consult your state’s version because every state is different, but they should be similar from one to another.
If you’re in Chicago today, Life Matters Media is working with the Chicago Public Library at two locations this afternoon to explain these advance directives and to help people fill these documents out. For more information, look here at Life Matters Media.
For the Illinois form, you can visit my hospital’s page and print off a copy.