Paying Attention

Today, I’d planned to engage in my every-once-in-a-while practice of playing ostrich—sticking my head in the sand, pretending everything is just fine, and writing about something light and fluffy and fun.

But then, quite out of nowhere, it dawned on me that my cousin and her husband are Muslim.

I confess that I don’t know E— well; I was an Air Force brat, moved around all the time, and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been in the same room with her. (One of those times was actually in a tent camper in our grandparents’ backyard, playing a double-deck game of War that lasted for hours. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.) I’ve never met her husband in person, and I’ve only seen pictures of their impossibly cute kindergartner. None of that matters though; they are family, they are Muslim, and I’m afraid for them.

E— confirmed my concern when I contacted her tonight. She said she had been considering wearing the hijab, but “it’s too dangerous.” She said they’ve taught their daughter not to say Islamic words aloud.

Did you catch that? Ours is a country founded on religious freedom, and these family members of mine are afraid to freely practice their religion.

Moments after my conversation with my cousin, I read a Facebook update from a high school friend. She’s a teacher, and today a student asked if she’s Muslim (she wears a scarf). When she said, “Yes,” that student and two others began saying hateful (and inaccurate) things about Islam. They wouldn’t stop, and she had to call for administrative support. As she described to the counselor who came to her aid what happened, she broke down. Reading her story, I did, too. I just keep thinking, “How can she go back to her classroom tomorrow?”

So, instead of burying my head in the sand and pretending everything is good and right and wonderful, I’m going to say some bold things.

If we who call ourselves Christ-followers are not outraged at how our Muslim brothers and sisters are being treated, particularly in our own country, we are not paying attention.

If we who call ourselves Christ-followers are not weeping for our Muslim family, friends, teachers, neighbors, physicians, bank tellers, librarians, cashiers, managers, firefighters, and baristas, we are not paying attention. 

By the way, this isn’t even about “loving our enemies.” Hear this: E—, G—, M— and J— are not our enemies, and neither are the Muslims in your neighborhood and community.

STOP. I know what some of you are thinking:

“Kelley, you don’t know that. That couple in San Bernardino—they were the enemy. How do you know the Muslims I know aren’t just like them?”

I don’t. I don’t know that.

But here’s what I do know: If we’re walking around making suspected enemies out of everyone who looks, dresses, speaks, or practices religion differently than we do, we are not paying attention to the Gospel we profess. There should be no but or unless or except at the tail end of any statement that includes the word love, and if we who call ourselves Christ-followers withhold love, compassion, and concern “just in case,” we are not paying attention. 

Ugh.

If I’m sounding all arrogant and “I’m super-Christian and you suck,” I don’t mean that at all. I’m just sad and angry and horrified and embarrassed and trying to be hopeful but losing ground quickly.

Here’s the bottom line: My cousin and her husband are Muslim. My friend is Muslim. They are afraid.

And they now have my full attention.

Shoes and Other Stuff

Shoes

Three weeks ago, a pile of shoes in front of my dresser caught my attention: three pair of Converse, one Asics, one Mudd, and a Skechers. I snapped a picture, knowing that at some point I’d feel compelled to confess to you my leanings toward materialism.

Oh, goodie—today is that day.

See, today is the first day of the season of Lent—the 40 days leading up to Easter (minus Sundays, which would require a tangential explanation from which I’ll refrain). If you don’t identify as Christian, this likely means absolutely nothing to you. Take heart: The same is true of a significant percentage of churchy folks—including me, until fairly recently.

During Lent, Christians are encouraged to give up something—in solidarity with Jesus’ suffering and as a way of being more mindful of Him as we prepare to celebrate Easter. We’re supposed to deny ourselves in the same way Jesus denied Himself.  Alternatively, one could take on something, rather than give up something: reading Scripture, for example, or doing random acts of kindness. In short, we should remove something that distracts us from our relationship with Jesus and our desire to live more like He did, or we should add something to deepen the relationship and support living differently.

Confession: My Lenten resolutions typically have nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with kick-starting a diet plan. Down with M&Ms and Diet Coke and up with water, trips to the gym, and raw food. I’ve failed miserably every year—at both the diet plan and the Jesus bit.

This morning, I woke up thinking about my pile of shoes. And then I started thinking about how pissed off I am about homelessness. And then I started thinking about how Jesus would have something to say about how I’m supposedly pissed off about homelessness, yet I have a finished, 1500-square-foot basement that’s unoccupied most of the time—except for the four hours each month when I host a group at my house to talk about homelessness. And then I started thinking about Lent.

And then I started feeling nauseous, because it’s perfectly clear what my Lent thing needs to be: Until Easter, I’m not going to buy “anything.” I’ll get to the air-quotes in a second, but let me first explain why this makes sense.

I spend several hours each month at The Bridge, a place in the city that cares for folks without homes. I also spend some time with Bridge Bread, a social entrepreneurship program that employees homeless people, and Home First, a grassroots organization that’s ending homelessness through—get this—housing people. I have ridiculous dreams about developing tiny home communities and creating mobile laundromats and turning buses into showers on wheels. Aside from passion, you know what those sorts of endeavors require? Time and money.

Well, I spend a lot of time and money buying stuff and taking care of that stuff. Jesus spent His time taking care of people. You see where this is going?

Jack and I have talked about significantly downsizing our home and possessions to release some resources to do what Scripture says: Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Living in—and with—less will create space in our heads, wallets, and calendars to do exactly that. The trouble is, we just keep talking about it instead of doing it because we have so much junk cluttering us up. At some point—soon—we’re going to start purging our stuff, right-sizing our possessions for a much smaller living space. But first, I need to stop bringing in new things.

So we’re back to this: Until Easter, for the purpose of denying myself as Jesus instructs and to release resources that will allow me to live differently, I’m not going to spend money on “anything.” The air-quotes are essential due to necessary exceptions:

  • food, but only from a grocery store
  • personal care products (toothpaste, TP, and so on) (This includes mascara. It’s necessary. Trust me.)
  • cleaning products
  • fuel, bills, and sundry unavoidable grownup responsibilities
  • pet care (I’ll bathe them, but I’m not about the anal glands, teeth, and nails.)
  • gifts for other people

When I reached this decision at 6:20 this morning, I immediately had a temper tantrum. You see, I’m preaching in two weeks and I’m teaching at a conference the week after that, and those types of occasions have, in the past, required Outfits. And now it’s too late. I’m going to have to wear something I already own. Horrors.

In addition, I’m going to keep track of what I wanted to buy but didn’t—and the amount of money I saved as a result. I’ll share that total—which is sure to be horrifying—on Easter. Today, I saved $16 by not buying a soda, not eating at BreadCo during our staff meeting, and not giving in to my craving for a latte.

Finally, I may, on occasion, look to you people to help me decide if an exception is truly “necessary.” And that’s why I’m writing this post at all: accountability. Scripture tells us not to be all boastful and woe-is-me-ish when we’re fasting; we’re supposed to do this type of thing in secret. I talked with my boss/pastor about that today, and he agreed that it’s a heart issue. I’m not putting my Lenten resolution out there so you can admire my bravery and sacrifice. I’m putting it out there because I need you to sound an alarm if you see me in line at Target with anything but dog food, toilet paper, milk, and window cleaner. I’ll be equipping you all with tasers in the next week.

So that’s it: That’s how a photo of too many shoes is going to solve homelessness. Through Lent.

(I’d love to hear your give-up or take-on for Lent if you have ’em, and I promise I won’t judge if it’s related to eating habits. For some people that is a significant issue and a good thing to tackle during Lent. It just wasn’t for me.)