The Sanctity of Life and the Miracle of Grace

Dena Hobbs:

My friend Tara at I Might Need a Nap says so eloquently what I haven’t had the courage or ability to say. All life is sacred. It is time we rethink Capital Punishment. It is beyond time.

Originally posted on I Might Need A Nap:

In September 2011 I heard a name I’d not heard before.  I heard it on the radio, saw it on Facebook.

Troy Davis.

This young man only three weeks older than I am was convicted for the August 19, 1989 murder of Mark MacPhail, a police officer in Savannah, Georgia.  His execution was scheduled for September 21.  That day my heart was very heavy.  He had been denied clemency, but his execution did not happen at 7 p.m. as scheduled.  The Supreme Court was reviewing his case.

I sat on the edge of the bed in my dimly lit room.  My children were all asleep, the youngest piled in next to me.  The Fella was out of town for work and had been for quite some time.  I was alone, fervently praying for someone to save this man’s life, all the while fearing the worst.

In that moment, I realized…

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What They Don’t Tell You About Getting Older

This is a big weekend in the Hobbs House. It always has been really. You see this Saturday is my Father-in-law’s birthday and Monday is my Mom’s. For years we have celebrated our alternate parent’s lives back to back. It can be a bit hectic and time consuming celebrating so much life in one fail swoop. For years we did a lot of driving and eating the last weekend of February.

But things have changed, for now my Father-in-law is gone. He died a few years back after battling cancer at 85. We still celebrate his birthday in some way with his widow, my mother-in-law. In many ways it is not just an acknowledgement of his life and the impact it had on us all, but a recognition of hers as well. It was awfully hard on her to lose her husband of 59 years in her late seventies. We worried about her a lot those first couple of years. Would she bounce back? Would she find life again? To some extent when we celebrate my Father-in-law’s birthday with her, we are also celebrating the fact that we  still have her in our lives. Even at 82 she presses on and lives a vibrant life. She is a gift to her community and our family. We are just so grateful she is still with us not only to share memories of him, but to make new memories as well.

And then there is my Mom. When you lose one family member, it doesn’t take much math skill to realize you are going to lose the rest of them sooner than you wish. Each birthday we celebrate becomes more and more precious. Even though my Dad is 82 and my Mom is seventy something, I mean 49, I mean I’d better stop talking about her age or I’ll get in trouble, they are still active. They are involved with their church and community and friends. They are a vital part of our family’s life watching over our kids when we get busy or sick and lending a hand in any way that is needed. But more and more our conversations focus on their friends and age mates who are sick and dying. Even though I am just in my early 40s, since I was a later in life surprise to them I realize I am lucky to have had them in my life as long as I have.

So that is what they don’t tell you about getting older. That you will move from squabbling with your parents and having them on your nerves half the time for giving you such much advice to praying to God for one more year with them. One more year to hear their words of wisdom and having the blessing of their presence in your family.

As I looked through the card aisle today I realized they just don’t make cards that express that adequately. Yeah, there are gratitude cards and “I love you” cards, but there is no “I’m just so grateful to have had one more year with you in my life card.”

So, I decided to make my own.

For our parents, even though we still sometimes squabble, get on each other’s nerves and disagree:

what they don't tell you about getting older

 

So, if you are lucky enough to still have your parents, even if it is not their birthday, feel free to share a little love with them this weekend. You can even steal this graphic off my Facebook or Pinterest or just forward this post. Love and Gratitude are meant to be shared. Take the time to offer it while you are able.

The Arab Next Door

So far this month of racism posts, I have written about what it was like growing up in the South and what it is like having a Chinese daughter. But there is another type of racism that has been growing in our country and our world. Racism against Arabs spiked after 9/11 and has only grown more more complicated in these fearful days of ISIS threats and terror.

I feel very unqualified to speak intelligently on racism against Arabs. You see my anxiety does not allow me to interact with the news much. I won’t read over the details of the three Muslims killed recently in Chapel Hill (though just the headline breaks my heart). I won’t read anything about ISIS, although the talk I hear from friends makes my blood run cold. I wish I could tolerate actually reading articles on these matters, but I’ve been six months without a panic attack and I’d like to keep it that way. I guess I’ll have to keep relying on my husband and trusted friends to fill me in.

What I do know however, is what I have lived. And in my experience that is the best teacher anyway.

Some fourteen years ago we lived in a parsonage in the south side of Savannah that was provided for us by the church I pastored. After a year of living in our spacious ranch house, we got new neighbors. Our neighborhood at that time what people termed “in transition.” What that really looked like was that our old neighbor told us he was moving “because our streets are being taken over by blacks and copperheads.” (The snake part was unfortunately true. The downside of living so close to a marsh).

Sometime mid September 2001, our new neighbors moved in. Being the friendly, welcoming people we are, we went over to say, “Hey.” True to form, our old bigoted neighbor did not sell the house to an African American family. Instead he sold it to a family of Arab descent. A middle aged mom and dad, their two teenage daughters, and the dad’s parents.

We traded hellos through our  southern accents and their accents of a foreign land. Actually the grandparents didn’t speak much English so communicating with them involved only a series of head nods.

I wish I could say I wasn’t freaked out by getting Arab neighbors, but the truth is I totally was.

Most of the time I could reason with myself that the teenage girls coming over to borrow phone books and pet our dogs were not involved with any terrorist plots.

But then one day I looked out our back windows and saw Grandpa dumping suspicious white material in the Back 40.

“That’s not anthrax. That’s not anthrax.” I kept telling myself.

It didn’t work. My anxiety ridden self called my husband in a panic begging him to come home because Grandpa next door was cooking up anthrax as a part of some jihadist plot. My husband tried to get me to breath and relax and told me he’d check everything out when he got home.

An hour later Jason took a stroll along the back of our property to get a good eye on the suspicious white substance. He came back inside, looked at me with steady eyes and delivered the news.

“Babe, it’s white paint.  Looks like they are doing a bit of home improvement.” He moved on to start dinner while I just sat with my head in my hands feeling stupid and confused.

the arab next door

I’d like to say all my prejudices about my neighbors went away after that moment. But that would be a lie.

When our church had an evangelism campaign late that fall, I walked over to my neighbors house with an apple pie and a flyer for our church. I though it was a risky move to invite Muslims over for worship, but if the associate pastor in charge of evangelism can’t be bold, then who would be? I handed my neighbors the pie and invited them to our church anytime. The mom thanked me and informed me that though they normally worshiped at a Baptist church nearby they would try and stop by sometime. Then she thanked me for the delicious pie.

I walked home and banged my prejudiced head against the back of my front door.

True to their word, Christmas Eve I spotted my neighbors out in the pews ready to enjoy our big Christmas cantata. I walked over with surprise to greet them. They were grinning ear to ear about the chance to listen to beautiful music and sing carols by candlelight. Their excitement melted my heart.

Then a few months later sickness fell upon both our houses. Grandpa suffered a mild heart attack and our beloved fur baby had emergency surgery on a blocked intestine. Although the loss of their patriarch would have been much greater than that of our pet, both households were taken over with worry- filled nursing. That first weekend Lucydog and I found ourselves walking the chain link fence line with Grandpa each hour on the hour as they both tried to gain back their strength. We would nod at each other as we both ambled around our respective yards. A couple of times I tried to encourage him and wish him well.  He would smile weakly as he reached through the fence to pat my healing dog.

Several months later when everyone was well and we were preparing to leave town for another church, my husband and I decided to sneak another fun night downtown in amidst our packing. As we walked the familiar squares, we spotted a restaurant we’d never eaten at before. It was a Mediterranean place and we were both in the mood for falafel, so we headed in. As we walked up to the counter to order, we did a double take. For there behind the counter was none other than our neighbor. We greeted Dad from next door (whose name I never memorized) and asked how long he had been running this little Mediterranean deli.  Turns out it was years. We had never taken the time to ask him what he did for a living (you know when he wasn’t running terrorist jihad plots out of the Baptist church he attended.)

For the first time that night we sat down and had a real conversation with our neighbor.

We asked him where he was originally from (Iraq). We talked about our worry over the looming troubles in Iraq, the great treasure of ancient Iraqi culture, and how much we loved falafel.

I walked back out into downtown that night feeling so sad. For over a year we had lived next door to this delightful family and out of sheer fear had never really taken the time to get to know them. How much more would we have learned if we had taken more time to chat over fence lines or gotten really crazy and invited them over for dinner? How much more blessed would we have been for breaking through our fear to befriend them?

I wondered how scared and lonely my neighbors must have felt. Being proud of their native culture on one hand and feeling the need to hide their heritage on the other.

I can only pray that the family that followed us were much kinder and more welcoming than we were. But my bet is that is not the case.

The threats and terror that are happening in our world are real. But what a loss for all of us when we let the actions of a few taint our view of thousands who hail from any Arab land. How much longer will be let fear and prejudice rule us?

For be clear, our fear does nothing to make the world a safer place.

Yet how much further would we get in our efforts to end terror if we pushed past the fear and took the time to build bridges and relationships with those who are “other” than us?

 

Do you have a story where you let fear of the “stranger” rule you? What helped you push past the fear? What was the result? Feel free to share in the comments below.

 

Guest Post: Getting To Know Each Other. A Conversation on Race

Over the couple of years I have been blogging, I have had the honor to become acquainted with and learn much from Lisa Owen. She blogs beautifully and bravely at My So Called Glamorous Life: The Adventures of a Domestic Engineer. I have enjoyed her posts on everything from the delicious food she cooks, the books she reads, to her adventures raising kids.

But I especially love it when Lisa writes about race. For she gives me a glimpse into what it is like to be a black woman living in the south.

Before I read Lisa’s blog and twitter feeds I had no idea people got profiled and followed by security guards in stores. Or how much time and effort it took to keep up her daughter’s hair (Yes Lisa, white people are fascinated with black hair. Not only because it is so different, but because it can do so many things white hair cannot. Coming from one who has had basically the same haircut since she was 16, I guess I’m a little jealous!)

When I decided to do a series on race in February, I knew I wanted Lisa’s voice in the conversation (BTW, she is having her own Black History month conversation over at her own site. Check it out!)

So without further ado, I give you Lisa:

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Race and ethnicity are hard subjects to talk about and contrary to popular belief, they are not the same thing. Race generally refers to genetics, while ethnicity is cultural. Race is determined by if you are or are not a descendant of Africa. Ethnicity relates to what area in the world you and your ancestors come from. While both of these things affect physical appearance, neither of these things is inherently negative. Since this is the case, why then is it so difficult to discuss? At the very mention of the word or concept of race/ethnicity there’s tension, defensiveness, accusations and bitterness. It’s a hard discussion to have and I applaud anyone, like Dena, who dares to have a meaningful conversation. Thank you, Dena, for letting me chime in.

In light of recent events (like Ferguson) I think that we can all agree that Americans need to continue the conversation about race.

As an African-American parent I can’t avoid it. Starting with the talks years ago that I had to have with my now adult sons about how to respond if you’re ever stopped by the police; to the increasing questions put to my 7 and 8 year-old-girls about their hair, their freckles, their hair, do they tan and more about their hair. I have to discuss race and ethnicity to help them understand some of the pervasive attitudes that come their way.

It gets heavy.

race and ethnicity

 

My girls have a face full of freckles, much like me and my mother and my grandfather and so on. They are completely adorable (I’m not being biased, they really are)! Recently, my 8 – year – old told me that one of her friends commented that some other girls at school said that she (my daughter) must have drawn those dots on her face because “Black people don’t have freckles.” I could tell you many, many stories about things that Black people allegedly do and don’t have. They are all, without exception, wrong and illustrate the dangers of stereotyping. My daughter was confused and somewhat hurt (“Why would I draw those on my face, mom?”) and I said to her:

Sweetheart, look at my face. What do you see?”

Freckles.”

Look at your sister and brother? What do you see?”

Freckles”

And Grandma, your aunt and uncles?”

Freckles.”

So what does that tell you?”

That African-Americans do have freckles, but why would they say that?”

Because she really doesn’t know any better. Next time, you’ll have to educate her.”

Such a seemingly innocent and simple thing as freckles, but the unilateral exclusion made her feel like “other”. Something used to make her feel isolated, like “You cannot be like me.”

Do I think it was intentional? No, but it really doesn’t matter because the damage is the same. Not to mention, that it is not only damaging to the recipient, but it’s also damaging for anyone to live in ignorance. Yes, we must talk, but we must also do more.

We must venture outside of our own neighborhoods and broaden our social circles. We must purposely seek knowledge about people and cultures outside of our own. Why is it in a country that is so big and so diverse, we only seek out those that look like us? And for goodness sakes, if what you think you know about other cultures comes predominantly from television or social media, TURN IT OFF! Nothing is better than face to face, personal interaction. Be curious, but seek answers. Don’t make assumptions. Be bold enough to stop negative comments and conversations even if it’s from people that you love. Be steadfast and unmovable in your commitment to find peace and racial harmony.

As ugly as things have gotten on the streets of our towns and cities, I remain hopeful. I am encouraged by people like Dena who speak up. I am encouraged by people who take to the streets to protest injustice and seek change. I am encouraged by the generation of children like mine who have kind hearts and no preconceived notion that they are supposed to mistrust and dislike one another because they don’t know that skin color matters.

Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters, and make change.

 

conversations on raceLisa Owen is a writer and blogger at My So Called Glamorous Life: The Adventures of a Domestic Engineer (www.mysocalledglamlife.com) and she has been a featured blogger on Blogher.com, Project Underblog, and in the supplemental materials for The Princess Problem (available at Rebecca Hains.com). She is a mother/step-mother in a blended family with five children ages 6 to 23. Lisa has a B.S. in Journalism from Southern Illinois University and spent 15 years working as a corporate/transactional paralegal for law firms and corporations before becoming a SAHM and pursuing her passion for writing.

 

 

 

 

 

My Little Brother: A Guest Post

I am privileged to share with you a guest post by my friend and mentor, Dr. Catherine Meeks. Dr. Meeks has been working for racial reconciliation longer that I have been alive. During her distinguished career she taught African American studies at Mercer University and Socio-Cultural studies at Wesleyan College. She currently serves on the Anti-Racism Commission for the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and is a religion columnist for the Huffington Post.

 Catherine inspires me continually with her courageous truth telling and her peaceful spirit (a powerful combination for sure).

I am so grateful to Catherine for sharing such a powerful and personal story. If you ever doubted that racism really causes tragic harm, doubt no longer.What is so sad to me about this story (other than the pain of the personal loss) is that some 60 years later we are still having to restructure our society to reflect the truth that all lives matter, equally.

Guest Post Catherin Meeks Black Lives Matter

So my friends, I give you the words of Dr Catherine Meeks:

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Though he was born before me, he died when he was twelve years old and as I heard the story about his death while growing up myself, he was always my little brother. His name is Garland and when he was a little boy, he got sick with what my family thought was just a common stomach ache that could be cured by home remedies. My family tried their remedies and he did not get better. Finally one night he took a turn for the worse and they rushed him to the local hospital which was seventeen miles from our house. The hospital turned him away because he was black and poor.

My father was instructed to take him to the charity hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana which was seventy-five miles away. My father managed to get transportation and took my brother there, but by this time his appendix had ruptured and he developed a serious infection which resulted in his death.

Daddy never recovered from Garland’s death. He grieved about him until his death many years later. He was angry and sometimes not very nice to the rest of us in part from his sense of helplessness when it came to being able to protect us. I can only imagine how fearful he must have been for the rest of his life that something would happen to us and he would not be able to intervene.

Now that I am a parent, I understand much better than I did during my earlier years why my father was so angry and over protective. As a teenager, I thought that he was just overbearing and controlling. But now I understand that he was filled with fear and rage about his own inability to protect us, which was a job that he believed belonged to him.

This is what racism did to my father. It was racism that took my brother away from us. A system that would not allow a hospital to offer services to a little twelve year old boy because he was not deemed good enough to be treated there. It was not the customary thing to do. I understand my father’s rage.

But, along the way I made a clear decision not to become my father. I made the decision to find a way to be empowered so that I would not be at the mercy of racist structures that sought to control me and to make sure that I stayed in my place. I made it my business to work to find out when and where I wanted to enter into life and to go forward as a liberated woman to do just that. I was determined not to relive the fear based and rage filled life that my dear daddy modeled for me simply because he did not know how to find a way out of it.

It is this determination that has led me to work for racial healing and reconciliation since I was in my early twenties. I believe that our only hope is to dismantle racism and to replace it with a commitment to work tirelessly to build a Beloved Community where all of God’s children can be free.

The Day I Learned What It Is Like To Be a Minority

I had the privilege today of taking my daughter to her State Honors Chorus event. As the group from our school gathered to wait for the event to begin, I noticed that I was the only white person at the table. I would say that we were the only white family, but my daughter is Asian. As a Chinese person, she is almost always the only Asian around whatever table she is sitting at, so she is used to being a minority.

She comments sometimes about how it makes her feel weird or different. She definitely is aware of her skin color and cultural heritage and how it does and does not fit in with others around her. When she makes these comments we never tell her, “Oh, don’t worry, it doesn’t matter.” or “We love you and love makes us all the same.” Because frankly, it is just not true.

In the end she is different and it does matter. It does make a difference.

Me and my girl enjoying shakes and our boy free time.

Me and my girl enjoying shakes and our boy free time.

I know this because of the day that I was a minority for the first time.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the opportunity to take a three week trip to Ghana, Africa while I was in seminary decades ago. While on the trip, I would stay with host families for a few days at the time learning about their church and life. While with my host family, I was the only white person in the house. Most of the time, I was the only white person in the city. Sometimes I was the only white person for miles and miles.

Let me just tell you something, when you are the only person of your race and culture for as far as the eye can see, you know it. You stand out. Big time. Most of the time I felt like I was so very white I was glowing.

Even though my host family was kind and everyone was very welcoming to me, I still felt odd and left out most of the time. In the whole “which one of these things is not like the other, which one of these things don’t belong” realm of things, I knew the answer was ME.

Sometimes this difference made me feel afraid. But mostly it just made me feel strange and lonely. 

Even when I could understand the language everyone around me was speaking, I didn’t always understand what they were saying. There was so much about our cultures that did not necessarily translate.

Like during church when we were supposed to be dancing our offerings up to the altar and the ladies behind me kept encouraging me to “Moooove your hips, love. MOVE them. Like thees!” No matter how they shook their hips from side to side in example or tried to help me shake mine, my hips just didn’t seem to be made for shaking in the same way. I felt embarrassed by my lame white girl dance skills. In that moment, I didn’t fit in, didn’t belong.

Now it would be wrong to suggest that there were no common bonds between me and my African friends or ways in which we spoke exactly the same. During that same service when they prayed the Lord’s prayer in their native language and I prayed it in mine, I felt total communion with these folks born across the world and in a different culture from me. No matter how white my skin was or how odd my accent, our prayer, our God, our faith was the same.

As was our love of family and fun and community and a hundred other things.

But at the end of it all, I will never forget how odd it felt to be the one was was different. Who looked different, spoke different, didn’t get the jokes.

Because I know that even though differences aren’t always bad, they are always REAL.

I have so much respect for those who bravely live their lives as a minority. For those  who live in a culture that is not native to them. (And let me just tell you friends, as a whole the USA is a white dominated culture and all our non-white friends to some degree have to translate each day).

I think of the church where I grew up and the one African American woman who sang in the choir and wonder if she ever felt lonely singing all those old English hymns.

I think of the first black families that moved into my all white childhood neighborhood and wonder how much courage and extra energy it took to make neighborly small talk with the white families that surrounded them.

And I think of my daughter and how she bravely faces each day in a family where the rest of the faces look the same in a way that hers does not. And how she constantly adapts to a culture that was not originally her own.

So when you are in a situation where someone is in the minority, please make every effort to be kind to them. And even when you are kind, understand that a part of them might still feel a little different, a little left out.

And take some time to ask and listen for what things are like for them in their native culture. You might learn some pretty cool things. Like how to shake your hips in joy and thanksgiving on a Sunday morning.

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This is the first in a two part post on what it is like to be a minority. The second will focus on how that status can help build bridges and work for all our good. These post are all in a larger series on race.

If you would like to join the conversation, PLEASE chime in with your (respectful) comments below. I feel a little ridiculous writing about race relations as a white woman, but feel our country needs to learn how to talk about race somehow so we can get past our barriers and learn to live in harmony and justice. These posts are my effort to help break the ice.