Privilege: A Pedestrian’s Perspective

Have you ever been on foot, walking your dogs or baby or both, when you come to a four way stop? And nobody lets you cross?

I have, and how frustrating and powerless it makes me feel! When the private school up the road starts, sometimes there will be a long line of cars with drivers that don’t make eye contact or recognize my pedestrian self and my need to cross the road. Finally SOMEONE will take pity on me and let me cross.

From what I have heard, it is worse for those on bicycles and motorcycles who actually use the same lanes as cars. Sharing the road is a difficult concept to practice. 

We technically live within the walking zone for our elementary school. It would be (will be?) a long two mile hike for a kid but as a neighbor around the corner has learned, unless you pay to bus, the school district won’t budge. So every school morning if I am not already at work there is a line of children down the side walk to the Main Street crossing, where a crossing guard in a yellow vest waves kids across. 

Of course someone could ignore the crossing guard. But it is a lot harder to ignore a full-grown crossing guard in a yellow vest than children with backpacks waiting to cross! 

What does this have to do with privilege? you may be asking. Or maybe you already see where I’m going with this…

I will be honest, I am still new to this journey. I spent an amazing, difficult summer in St. Louis in college talking about social justice in ways that changed my mind. I learned verses like “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”‭‭(Micah‬ ‭6:8‬ ‭ESV.)‬‬ Or this one, speaking of God: “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy‬ ‭10:18-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬.) Those verses have remained in my heart. 

God loves justice; he loves the least fortunate and the most vulnerable of our society. I recently went to a talk at work about racial disparities in health…. African American babies are born earlier and smaller. First generation African immigrants don’t show this effect, but by the second generation they do; the stress takes a toll on mothers and babies. And this is true throughout the life continuum. This was a waking call for me; this is affecting my patients, the people I work with.

So back to my metaphor. When I am walking my dogs, those people on the road are not inherently better because they are driving a car. They are dropping off kids; I have the day off and am talking a walk. Their cars are big and dangerous, and they certainly can ignore me and any applicable laws and drive through the intersection, relatively confident I will stay out of the way.  

However, we do have laws. We have crossing guards to try to protect the most vulnerable. We can’t rely on those; we also need to watch our own driving. Are we being kind? Are we yielding to others? 

Even if spiritual arguments hold no weight, the golden rule is always something to consider. We all have pedestrian experiences. Maybe it is when we travel or when we need health care; maybe it is when we are students and our professors show mercy in extenuating circumstances (or not.)

Based on our ethnicity, our citizenship,our financial situation, our jobs, we come into positions of relative power, we have “privilege.” But what do we choose to do with this power? Do we use it to preserve the status quo? Do we use it to show off our status, to ignore those who are lower on the perceived totem pole, to endanger them because it is not convenient for us? Do we drive through the intersection without a second thought or look?

Or perhaps I should say – “what should we do?”


The World as Garden

Down the steep and winding steps, you find the garden. Here they quarried the stone that built the elegant house above for Dr. Plummer. Now the quarry is a green lawn, a pair of stunning fountains, a recessed garden set with rare trees and hardwoods. A secret path leads to another smaller garden and then into the woods. Walking here feels like a deep breath, a thirst-quenching sip of lemonade, the crisp bite of a summer watermelon. 

Why are gardens so enjoyable? I think it is because we have been gardeners from the beginning. Genesis 2 talks about the Garden of Eden, planted with trees both beautiful and delicious. Gardening was man’s vocation: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis‬ ‭2:9).

I have always felt insecure about humans’ environmental impact. Are we the great despoilers of nature? Is every footprint the destruction of a delicate biome? I have never subscribed to the idea, though many from necessity or choice appear to, that the world is a limitless resource to exploit. However, would the world be better off without us? 

I think the answer is no. The world is a garden to be tended. There is a place in the garden for wilderness – but there is also a place for human dwellings, for human industry. The important thing is to not lose sight of the goal – our stewardship of creation. 

Now, are we doing a great job being gardeners right now? The Great Garbage Patch and the stark moonscapes of many former mines suggest otherwise. We have lost many animals to our gluttony; we have taken too much, too often. 

I think some people in their minds justify this because “Jesus is coming soon and it won’t matter.” But we can’t live that way; we can’t keep taking, taking, taking. There is “a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal” (Ecclesiastes 3:2b-3a). This is a time to plant and heal, a time to turn our quarries into gardens. This is our chance to turn things around!

The beautiful movie The Secret Garden is based on the book by Frances Hodgkin Burnett and shows how Mary, a bitter and lonely orphan, transforms and is transformed by her discovery of a hidden garden. I will close with one of its quotes: “If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

Are you being a good steward? How are you tending your garden? 

Impressions, l’Orangerie and Giverny

We just got back from our big trip of the year, a combination conference, family visit, and vacation in Paris and Versailles. There are so many things I could write about – the amazing meals, the sweet time with family, the blessings and kindness that we encountered at every step, how our second trip differed dramatically from our first, and toddler travel. 

But today I will write of Monet. He was a father of Impressionism (it was named for his painting, Impression, Sunrise). We saw many Parisian museums last time; this time, toddler in tow, we only visited L’Orangerie, home of Les Nymphéas (the water lilies). 

Outside, the afternoon sun is brutal. The toddler is overtired and crying, crying. I circle quickly through the cool crowded downstairs galleries of Impressionists. There is an exhibit of art from Ishibashi, the Japanese founder of Bridgestone, who collected Impressionist art. The toddler falls asleep and Chris rejoins me. We wander through the galleries again, enjoying the new and the familiar. 

We finally decide to visit the Water Lilies. We walk into the great rooms crafted to display them, designed to have the best light. They are huge! I expected walls full of small canvases. These are vast, they are magnified. These are a journey, from tree to tree, over reflections, ripples, lily pads. Different panels show different tints, different lights. 

The toddler wakes up, querulous; we leave quickly. 

After that we had to see Giverny, Monet’s home for many years. After the death of his first wife, Monet and Alice, his eventual second wife, and their large blended family set up shop in the rolling French countryside, where Monet created and painted fantastic gardens. 

We find our way along winding roads by the Seine, through narrow streets in red roofed towns. Monet saw this place from a train. It happens that way, finding a home. I buy tickets while Savannah naps in the car. A little girl bumps into me and her mother scolds her in an unknown language, perhaps Portuguese; she says “sorry” and I smile at her. We have a French picnic by a carp pond – cheese, a baguette, a coffee for me, Orangina for Chris. We walk to the museum. The formal gardens are a profusion of flowers in full sun, alive with insects. 

Savannah is fascinated by the chickens, bored by the gift shop, obsessed with the gravel. She pours stones in and out of a paper bag. Meanwhile, we take turns touring the house. It is full of Japanese prints that Monet collected – and tourists from Mexico, Korea, Japan, and of course us –

We wander through the tunnel to the Japanese garden. We are very good at converting the stroller into a litter for the stairs. The pond water is still, green; a bevy of frogs begin a chorus of croaking and stop just as suddenly. The bridges are hung with wisteria and crowded with tourists. It is shady, ethereal, magical. 

We leave reluctantly – we have another museum to visit, and are looking forward to an evening in Paris with our French famille. But first, an impulse buy at the gelato cart.

Of course, I have to get violet. 

The Fork in the Road

We all face those moments of choice. Sometimes they are big choices – yes or no? Minnesota or Colorado? Sometimes they are more gradual – a dead-end, a recalculation, the decision to get cake instead of icecream. Often these choices are best viewed in retrospect. Robert Frost put it best in “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Yogi Berra famously said , “when you come to the fork in the road, take it!” My interpretation of that is this: sometimes you know which fork to take and sometimes you don’t. The important thing is making the decision. 

Recently I have been going through The Artist’s Way, a book that has helped me find a renewed joy in creating and reminded me that God created us to create. Our gifts and talents are from him, and he delights when we use them! However, this book is hard at times, addressing past baggage and disappointments. 

When I went to college, I knew I was going to be an English major. I had originally planned to be a nurse – the safe choice – but I wanted to write, I loved to write. I loved my high school English teachers. So I took the initial English major class.

I have repressed most memories of that semester but I remember a lot of pain, disillusionment, and disappointment. My teacher certainly did not encourage or draw me to the English major. I did take a Southern Lit-themed class much later and again  found it decidedly not my cup of sweet tea. 

As I remembered my disappointment, I felt very angry. I wanted to write that teacher a letter and let her know how much she turned me off of English. Then I realized that she did a good thing. I don’t think the English major at that school was a good fit for me. Many friends and classmates found a home there, and I am happy for them. 

Because of her class, I found my way to Anthropology. I LOVED my anthropology major and professors. During the intro anthropology class, I felt like the garage door had just opened on my worldview. Because of that class, I did archaeology in Mexico instead of whatever English majors do in the summer (haha just kidding… internships, they do internships). Because of that class, I studied all kinds of things I would not have known about otherwise. I interviewed women pastors; I learned about sociobiology and the construct of race. I spent time drinking hot chocolate in a Latina friend’s kitchen and went to her church. I studied Spanish poetry and film music. Eventually, I found my way back into nursing, and that is my calling too. 

I am still reading and writing. I would have been fine as an English major. I am so glad I was an Anthro major.
So thank you Dr. A! I am so thankful for the way things turned out. God used that class (even though it was unpleasant) to guide me another way. 

And that has made all the difference. 

Claim Your Prize

I hit rock bottom one day while starving in my dead end job. Once I had it all. I had liquidated my trust fund and plunged into the life I had dreamed of, not worrying who I hurt in the process. But my friends weren’t friends, my money didn’t go that far, and soon I had nothing. And that’s when I thought – what am I doing? I should go home! My dad is reasonable, and he treats his employees better than this! So I left my job, went home – and my dad was thrilled to see me. He exceeded any hope I had, welcoming me home, throwing a party. The only one who wasn’t thrilled to see me with my older brother, the responsible one and I can understand why: I certainly didn’t deserve the warm welcome. 
The Prodigal Son is such a familiar story to Christians. For a long time, as an oldest child and a good girl, I identified with the older brother. Why should God treat us equally? Why shouldn’t I get a party for being so good? I read a wonderful story by Patricia Wrede called “Roses by Moonlight” in her Book of Enchantments that captures this feeling (from a modern day, female, magical perspective). It opens with older sister smoking a cigarette (her only vice) outside by the car as her sister and friends have a rocking party inside. 
Then after going through my rebellious stage in early college, I certainly understood the Prodigal’s emotions: gratitude, joy, and the relief that comes with returning home, where we are known and loved no matter what we have done.  

But it is only recently that I have understood the father’s perspective. Parenthood has transformed my understand of faith. First of all, the capacity to love! I love my child so much, I would do anything for her. She is the most precious thing. And I believe God loves us the same way. He delights in us, He wants all good things for us.

My daughter is a strong willed toddler who is figuring out her boundaries. She is in a hitting phase. I discipline her for hitting, not because her little attempts to hit hurt me – because they  don’t – but because that’s not what I want for her. I don’t want her to grow up communicating through violence and driving playmates away by hitting them. I don’t discipline her because I’m mad, I discipline her because I want something better. It’s the same, I believe, for God – He can handle our sin, we can’t do anything that would surprise or offend him. But he wants something better and so he presses us relentlessly towards perfection. 

Sometimes my daughter does hit a playmate, and when that happens I have to do something dramatic to protect the playmate. I will take my daughter away to time out. I will take the toy away that she used to hit. I don’t do this out of rage, but to protect. So in my mind, that is why Biblical discipline sometimes appears dramatic.  Because God was protecting others. 

I forgive my daughter, but she doesn’t get it yet. She won’t until her little brain begins to process that what she is doing is wrong. Our pastor on Sunday noted that forgiveness begins, not with the celebration party, but when the Prodigal’s heart turns homeward. His father had already forgiven him. His father lived by forgiveness. The son had to make the first step to go home, to accept the forgiveness, to start over and rebuild the relationship. He had to claim his prize, just as lottery winners have to claim what is already theirs. 

The Prodigal Son is a parable and it does not tell the whole story. The good father wouldn’t wait for his son to come back from the far country. He is the good shepherd, after all. He would be texting, sending letters, trying to keep tabs on his son even when his son ignored him.  When his son went off the grid, the good father would set out to track him down. He would find him in the pig pen, ready to come back, ready to accept his father’s forgiveness. The father would give him a ride home on his own Aston Martin donkey. 

God sends the Hound of Heaven for us. Once he has become involved in our lives, He will give us opportunity after opportunity. I don’t just mean about accepting Christ and giving our lives to him; I also mean doing what He is calling us to do. It is never too late for Him. His forgiveness is never out of date. Our prize never expires.  

Do you have a prize to claim? Is it Eternal Life or trusting God with your future? 

What are you waiting for? 

“I Am Legion”

I attended a conservative Christian middle school in the loop of the Bible Belt. My life and worldview have changed greatly since the days I was taught that the earth was  created in six 24-hour days,  or believed that Christian and Republican were synonymous, or thought the “Left Behind” books just might be prophetic. But a couple things haven’t changed: my belief in Christ, nourished by loving parents, caring teachers and kind friends (many of whom I am still connected to via Facebook). And the Bible. The same stories just keeping turning up, like precious, insistent pennies. 

Recently, a friend taught the story of Jesus exorcising the man with many demons (check it out in Mark 5)  at an international Bible study that I belong to. Jesus lands on a literally godforsaken side of the lake and meets a strong, naked, demon-possessed lunatic who lives among the tombs. When Jesus asks the demon’s name, the man replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (This is Ring-level creepy!) Jesus casts the demons into a herd of 2,000 pigs and they plunge off the cliff into the sea. Rather than being impressed by this miracle, the locals ask Jesus to leave, and he tells the man he healed to stay behind and spread his news. 

 I love this parable, partly because I remember doing a rap about it when I was in middle school. I had never heard rap (except of the Christian variety), but my two friends and I put on sunglasses, wore backwards baseball caps, and rapped our hearts out. The refrain, as I recall, was “I am Legion!”

I really, really wish I had a video. 

This time, I started thinking about it from the other people’s point of view. It helped me understand why they asked Jesus to leave. Somebody owned those pigs, and they were worth a lot of money. And then – poof! A total loss! 

“Who does this guy think he is, destroying all those pigs? If he can do that, what could he do to us? We thought the crazy guy was scary… this guy could destroy everything we hold dear!”

But somebody loved this man, loved him enough to try to take care of him – although he kept running off, although he behaved like a wild animal.

Just like I love my child, but more.

Jesus knew that this man’s life and sanity was worth far more than 2,000 pigs. Not that he doesn’t care about animals – He knows when a bird falls out of the nest (Matthew 10:29). Yet he allowed this to happen, because pigs and people are apples and oranges. 

How much is a human life worth today? 

Today this man might have a different label. “Schizophrenic.” “Multiple personalities.” “Subhuman.” The label may be different, but I think demons are still doing their dark work in our world today – on my mind is the recent Slenderman case

Today, people might still see this man’s life as not worth more than 2,000 pigs or the equivalent. But Jesus calls us to care, to support those with mental illness, or demons, those who are feared and ostracized. He cares for everyone. For embryos, for fetuses, for teenage moms, for 50 year old moms, for drug addicts and work addicts, for murderers on death row, for all of us sinners with our baggage. He grieves at the injustice that rules in our world. He came to break down barriers of ethnicity, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status – everything that we use to dismiss or dehumanize others. He still works through us to break those down today.

How is he seeking to use you? 

Ask Questions

My maternity leave from blogging is over. It’s a New Year and my resolution is to post monthly. Also, my resolution is- less journaling, more originality. After all, my other social media sites pretty much chronicle my life. This is the place for deep thinking…

Of course, pictures especially of cute children make all blogs more readable, so we’ll see.

So the first question- why a blog about questions? A coworker the other day was asking me many questions and then apologized about it. I remembered a teacher saying there  are no dumb questions. Yet I admit, sometimes I am annoyed by questions. 

But then I ask myself why I am annoyed and it’s usually because I don’t know the answer and am afraid of how I will appear.
So this is my manifesto on why you should ask  (and answer) questions.

– It reinforces what you know! And it helps remind you why you are doing this. Whether at work or home, it is important to review the whys. 

– Because it’s the right thing to do. Because we are all new and unsure once. Because it’s better to find out and i things right than pretend. 

– Because asking questions is a good time to reevaluate whether this is best practice. So many changes for the better have started with this exchange:

“Why do you do it this way?”

“Because we’ve always done it this way.”

“But why? Why not this other way?”

“Huh. That does work better…” 

So ask questions. Don’t be afraid of the answers. Don’t be afraid if you don’t know the answer. 

What questions have you been afraid to ask?

Is it time to ask them?