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. 


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.

Dear Mr. Trump, Part 2

Just in case y’all are wondering how I’m doing with the whole “feeling sorry for Mr. Trump” thing. . . 

Dear Mr. Trump,

Remember me? I wrote you a kinda-sorta nice letter a few days ago. Yeah, so this one’s not so nice.

Some people are wondering if the Democrats hired you to make the Republicans look bad. If that’s true, I commend you: you’re doing a fine job. If it’s not true—if the opinions and ideas you’re spouting are actually real—I beg you to pick up your toys and go home. 

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. In fact, because of my off-the-charts empathy, I often make excuses for bad behavior. (That’s the downside to my “And” theory of humanity.) You can see it in my first letter to you, can’t you? I point out a bunch of obnoxious things about you, and then I make excuses for you! “I think maybe you’re sad,” I said. “You’re okay,” I said.

Well, I take it back. You’re not okay. Not right now, anyway. Whatever’s “okay” about you is currently sinking to the bottom of an outhouse full of your ignorant, egomaniacal, abusive, brutish bullshit.

(I don’t think Jesus would dig that last paragraph. Except I bet he’s laughing behind his hand, the way parents do when their kids say something that’s horrible and hilarious at the same time.)

Listen, I know I’m supposed to love you. I’m know I’m supposed to pray for you—and not just that you’d get the hell out of the POTUS race. But right now I’m too busy loving and praying for my Muslim brothers and sisters whom you’ve stripped of dignity and who will undoubtedly suffer an increase in persecution right here in the land of the free because of you. The last thing we need is a leader who validates religious intolerance and incites hatred.

And to my Muslim friends who read my last letter to you, I recognize now that I’ve assumed benign intent for too long. I pray they’ll forgive my naiveté and know that I stand with them.



Three summers ago, my family took an epic road trip to Washington, D.C. In the planning of the trip, each of us chose one, non-negotiable stop on the tour. Mine was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

I’m sure Jack was expecting me to drag him around some “art” museum (those are his air quotes, not mine); you see, I’m not exactly a history buff. (My dad just laughed out loud. I heard him from 58 miles away.) I actually loathe history museums. Typically, while Jack takes his time at each and every exhibit reading every.single.placard., I flit around the displays, thoughtfully nodding my head on occasion so I look more interested than I actually am. Which is not at all. So, my DC non-negotiable came as a bit of a surprise. Honestly, I chose the Holocaust Museum because I’d been told it would wreck me, and I appreciate an occasional wrecking.

I knew, of course, the basics of the Holocaust—concentration camps and gas chambers, Anne Frank: The Diary of  a Young Girl and Elie Wiesel’s Night. What I didn’t remember—or, more likely, what was conveniently left out of my junior high school curriculum—was the United States’ response to the Jewish refugees.

My memory’s a little sketchy, but it seems like the museum was bathed in a sort of dim, grayish-blue light. It was packed with tourists, most of them silently sliding their eyes across the displays or whispering to one another, holding their children close. After spending several minutes in the audio theater listening to Auschwitz survivors tell their stories, I got myself together (wrecked, indeed) and worked my way through the crowd to a corner of the room I’d not yet explored.

I began reading… and stopped. I shook my head, as if to clear away the confusion, and began again. As I read through the end of the placard, a hot flush of shame made its way from my chest to my neck. I turned to Jack.

“We didn’t let them in?”

He nodded.

“Seriously? We didn’t let them in? But what about that poem? The ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ poem! The one at the base of the Statue of Liberty! We didn’t let them in?”

We’re not going to do this again, are we?

Yes, I’m nervous about terrorists posing as Syrian refugees. Yes, I’m nervous about the extreme differences of opinion regarding our ability to adequately vet them. But I’m also nervous in movie theaters and about the reality that our kids have “intruder drills.” (And a whole bunch of other things, too.) I’m not convinced that one fear or another is more reasonable. For those of us who are Christ-followers, fear shouldn’t get a vote, anyway. Jesus said a lot of confusing things, but His words in Matthew 25:35-40 aren’t among them.

I’m a pretty simple girl, and I know this situation is profoundly complicated and messy and polarizing. But I also know these Syrian refugees are human beings. They’re people of worth and value—no less worth than you and I. They’re not the enemy. If we could look them in the eye, we would see ourselves.

Please. Let’s not do this again.

Don’t Make Me Make This Face

So, I’ve discovered another reason for my wrinkles. It’s this facial expression right here:


This, my friends, is the face I make—a whole, whole lot—when I’m dumb enough to peruse the comments sections of politically charged Facebook posts. 

It comes with a sound effect, too. It’s a short, gaspy, between-the-teeth intake of air… sort of like the one you make when you get up at 3 am because your stupid dogs have to pee and you run your big toe into the corner post of your bed and you can’t yell any obscenities because you don’t want to wake your partner. (And maybe also because you’d rather your kid not yell DAAAAAMMMMMMIIIIIIITTTT when he runs into a slide pole during recess the next day. And maybe also because Jesus probably doesn’t approve of out-loud obscenities.)

So, yeah. This scrunched-up, I’m-about-to-get-a-flu-shot-and-I-know-it’s-going-to-burn face happens (in no particular order):

  • when privileged people question the existence of privilege.
  • when white people tell People of Color how they should feel about, or respond to, their experiences with racism.
  • when people suggest rape culture isn’t a thing.
  • when middle- or upper-class people offer simple solutions to poverty (which often begin with, “Well, if they would just [insert idea that makes perfect sense to people of privilege but is largely unavailable to under-resourced or marginalized people]…”)
  • when people assume someone’s differences are wrong or when people make fun of that which they don’t understand, such as the LGBTQIA community.
  • when conservative evangelicals declare that one can either be a democrat or a Christian, but not both.
  • when any of the following words are applied toward any human being on any “side” of any argument: ridiculous, idiotic, stupid, retarded (don’t even get me started), worthless, or gay (unless the person to whom they’re referring is actually gay and it’s not being used as an insult). Incidentally, I also struggle with labeling people as racist, sexist, and homophobic—but only because I think those are learned attitudes and behaviors, not core character traits. Plenty of people will disagree with me, and that’s all right. Having this perspective is a sort of coping strategy for me; it allows me to deal with people’s ugliness while also remembering they are people of inherent, sacred worth. It’s not easy with some personalities (I’m looking at you, Trump), but it helps me keep judgment at bay. Usually. I’m still working on it.
  • when people write things that are simply naive, and I’m certain what they meant to say is different from what they actually said, and I wish I could jump in and rescue them before any of of the above labels are applied to them.

So, I—and my poor, wrinkled face—have an idea. How about if we impose a two-minute waiting period for social media posts/responses? Like, take 120 seconds to ask ourselves some questions:

  1. Am I being overly harsh or judgmental?
  2. Will my words hurt or further marginalize a particular group of people?
  3. Am I putting people in a box, working from a stereotype, or too broadly applying an observation?
  4. What’s the purpose behind my post? Is it to offer an alternative perspective? Or is to get a, “Damn straight!” from people who already agree with me?
  5. Have I tried to see this from another point of view? Have I had a face-to-face conversation with someone who thinks differently than I do about this? If so, did I try to find points of connection, or was I just building my case?
  6. Have I reminded myself that just because it’s not my experience doesn’t mean it’s not a real experience?
  7. (Here’s a good one…) Have I confirmed that what I’m sharing or commenting on is actually, ya know, true?
  8. Would I be okay saying this to or in front of Jesus (or your moral compass of choice)?
  9. Better yet, would I be okay saying this to or in front of my grandmother (or your favorite, cookie-baking, elderly person of choice)?
  10. Is this worth a response? Or should I be like Bill?

Seriously, y’all. Social media is becoming a wasteland of hostility. Let’s be different, okay? My face thanks you.

A Student at a Desk

You’ve seen the video, I’m sure. The one showing a school resource officer dumping a young woman backward out of her desk and then tossing her across the room?

I’ve watched it dozens of times, each time shifting my focus to the different players—the officer, the girl, the other students, the teacher. I’ve watched an interview with the young man who shot the video. I’ve tried, more than once, to give the officer the benefit of the doubt. Surely there’s a backstory here. Surely she made some sort of threatening gesture we can’t see. Surely something terrible happened moments before the recording began that required or justified the officer’s actions.

I just can’t make sense of it.

Other people seem to understand it: This is what happens when you don’t respect authority, they say. She should’ve done what she was told, they say. She forced him to act this way, they say.

I don’t buy it, and I worry about what the other students learned yesterday:

  • If a conflict can’t be resolved through conversation, the next step is physical aggression.
  • The consequence for questioning out-of-control authority is arrest.
  • It’s appropriate for men to toss women around if they’re noncompliant.

Yes, of course I think students ought to respect one another, teachers, and administrators; I recognize there are students who are mouthy and obstinate; and I understand (to the extent I’m able) the multiple roles our educators take on: teacher, counselor, mentor, provider.

Yes, of course I think law enforcement should be trusted and respected (under most circumstances in which I would encounter them); I recognize there are people who believe otherwise (for all sorts of reasons, some justifiable and some perhaps not); and I understand (to the extent I’m able) how incredibly difficult, dangerous, and demanding law enforcement can be.

Yes, of course I know we don’t know why or how the situation escalated to the point it did; I recognize the media seems to have an anti-police bias; I understand this is surely a more complex situation than it appears.

And still, no, I do not believe this young woman “deserved what she got,” and I can’t imagine the outrage and fear such a response must stir up among the young women and men in that classroom and community.

What the hell is happening?

And what are we going to do about it?


I’m a Thinker Outlouder. It’s a dangerous title, because if I forget to write/say, “I’m just thinking out loud here,” people assume what I’m writing/saying is my actual opinion. (Which, I’ll admit is a fair conclusion to draw.) With me, though, it’s likely that I’m processing aloud what my potential opinion could possibly be. I can’t remember from whom I learned this idea, but it’s so spot-on with how my brain works: Let me hear what I say so I know what I mean.

So with that disclaimer—which, I’ll confess, may be just a way for me to avoid responsibility for what I’m writing—I’m going to talk about guns.

I don’t like them. I don’t like knowing people are carrying them around where I can’t see them, and I don’t think I’d feel much better if they were visible. I equate guns neither with sport nor self-defense; to me, they symbolize violence. I know lots of good people who have and use guns. I like those people. I don’t like their guns. I’m the mom who, when my girls were invited to friends’ homes, would call to ask their parents two questions: “Will you be home to supervise?” and “Do you keep weapons in your house?” (And later, “Do you provide or permit teenagers to drink alcohol?”) I didn’t allow water guns or Nerf guns in our house. Jack is bummed—to this day—that I asked him to get rid of his Super Soakers when we got married.

And yet, despite my far Left leanings, I don’t think we should take away everyone’s guns. Rather, we ought to be more mindful of the type of weapons available, we ought to make them more difficult to obtain, we ought to require training and licensing, and we ought to impose renewal periods–just like with driver licenses. I don’t think a mental health history should automatically disqualify someone from owning a firearm, but it doesn’t seem completely unreasonable to require some type of physician’s release in certain cases, although I’m concerned about adding additional stigma to an already unfairly stigmatized group of people—a group that includes me. I also wonder if it could be helpful to impose stiff penalties on people whose weapons are used in a crime; if the possibility of their three-year-old shooting himself through the eye isn’t enough incentive to keep their guns locked up, maybe the threat of a $25,000 fine and five-year jail sentence would be. (Maybe these sorts of laws already exist?)

But I don’t think we can stop there. While those measures would likely decrease the number of gun-related tragedies, they aren’t going to completely eliminate gun-related crime. I can’t help but wonder why people are picking up weapons and using them to intimidate, wound, and kill other human beings. There must be preventive measures we can take other than ones related to the guns themselves. Education. Economic opportunity. Accessible mental health services. Before- and after-school activities. Mentoring programs. Affordable housing. All of it and more.

Hmmm… I had an “I wonder” just now: It’s been suggested that if guns had been legal on Umpqua Community College’s (UCC) campus, the loss of life would’ve been minimized—because someone would’ve taken that guy out. But if someone else had drawn a weapon, how would the police have known which one was the actual threat? And, not to complicate the issue (except let’s do), what if, in that situation, the real perpetrator is white and the hero is a Person of Color? Would certain assumptions be made? (Just in case you thought it, that’s not “pulling the race card.” It’s a legitimate concern.)

On Thursday, within half an hour of seeing the reports of the shooting at UCC, I was horrified to read the “Told ya so” and “Oh shit, here come the Liberals to take away my gun” status updates. In response, I wrote that tragedy should not be a notch in the belt of our political agendas, and I stand by that statement today. However, I did not at all mean to suggest that we don’t have some policies (or lack thereof) to address. We absolutely need to be having these conversations, but we need to be having them not as people who are smug about being proven “right,” but as fellow human beings who are not okay with people losing their lives. We may even need to have them as people who are more concerned with the well-being of other people than we are about our own personal rights. And we may need to decide that we’re not going to let money make policy decisions. And Christ-followers—we better be asking ourselves what Jesus would have to say about all of this.

No matter what, we have work to do. Now. Before it’s too late.

For those families in Oregon, it already is.


I’m sitting in a lime green beach chair on Art Hill in Forest Park, munching on some baby carrots. I’ve kicked off my shoes, and my legs are stretched in front of me, cushioned by my favorite blanket—one I’ve had for 27 years. On my left, Jack’s sitting in a similar chair, eating the club sandwich I packed for him. On my right is my favorite friend and her youngest daughter, who, at the moment, are passing back and forth a bag of chocolate, mini-donuts. Around us sit thousands of people with impressive picnic dinners and goblets of wine spread in front of them. It’s an incredible evening; the sky is impeccably blue, and it’s just cool enough to require a hoodie. Maybe 400 yards away, at the foot of the hill and just in front of the Grand Basin, sits the Grammy-award-winning St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO).

At some point toward the end of the third number, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March from a Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I’m overwhelmed by a feeling I can only describe as I Can’t Believe This Is My Life.

Some people might describe the whole experience as a “blessing.” I’m not inclined to use that word, because I think true blessings ultimately come from God, and I have a tough time believing God dispenses them discriminatorily. The world seems to do exactly that, though—dispense blessings discriminatorily—and I suppose that’s why the word privilege comes to mind instead.

Please don’t roll your eyes at me. I know privilege is a hot-button word right now, and I think that’s because it’s misunderstood. Some people seem to equate being described as privileged with being accused of racism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia. Others become defensive because their lifestyle and possessions have nothing to do with cultural or systemic advantages, they say; rather, they’ve sought out opportunities and worked their tails off. Please know I’m not accusing anyone of anything, and I’m certainly not suggesting people are handed their stuff on silver platters. (Usually.) In fact, the list I’m about to present is about me, and no one else. And if it makes you feel better, you can call this a list of things for which I’m grateful. As for me, I’m calling it:

Privileges Related to a Night with the SLSO

  1. I had the financial resources necessary to go on an epic family road-trip three summers ago—one that included a brief stay at the ocean. Which is where I purchased those beach chairs. And no one followed me around while I was shopping for them.
  2. I live in a city that values cultural activities and tries to make them financially accessible to everyone through free concerts; free art, history, and science museums; and free musical theater.
  3. I can afford fresh produce and healthy bread.
  4. I have multiple grocery stores within two miles of my home, two of which are within easy walking distance.
  5. I have laundry machines in my house. Which means I can wash my socks anytime I’d like. Which means I can remove my shoes at a concert without offending the people around me.
  6. I have reliable transportation.
  7. I have a support network of friends who have resources—like zoo parking passes so I didn’t have to spend $15 to attend a free SLSO performance. And donuts. They have that resource, too.
  8. My husband and I have flexible employers, so we can leave work a bit early without it affecting our paychecks and without fear of being fired.
  9. I live in a country where it’s safe to be outside.
  10. I have multiple options of clothing/blankets to keep me warm if needed.
  11. It’s easy for me, physically, to get around.

As I look over this list, most of them relate to economic privilege, but I know I enjoy many others as a middle-class, white, cisgender, highly educated, able-bodied, mentally and emotionally healthy, Christian heterosexual. (I saw you raise your eyebrows at the mentally/emotionally healthy claim. I’m medicated. Soooooo…that counts.)

I’m not beating myself up over any of this, by the way; I’m just learning that it’s good to recognize how my experience of the world may differ from yours. And since I have these privileges, I ought to find ways to use them for good.

Someone else’s good, that is—not my own.

I Contain Multitudes

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
~ from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

Dang it, dang it, dang it. In a post I wrote a few days ago, I said Kim Davis is a person of worth and courage and integrity. And now I’m wishing I’d just kept quiet.

But, because I have an intense fear of being disliked, I don’t want any of my more conservative friends thinking I’m all “Down with Davis.” So I’ll reiterate: She does have worth. (We all do.) She seems courageous, given her defiance of a court order. (Courage and stupidity: two sides of the same coin.) And if you define integrity as sticking to your moral standards, she certainly has that going on.

But (again with the fear of being disliked) I don’t want any of my progressive friends thinking I’m all “Hooray for Davis.” Which seems to contradict what I just wrote.

Here’s what’s going on in my head: Yesterday, I watched this video of her, and for the teeniest moment, I wanted to retract the kinder things I’ve said about her. And then I wanted to throw something at her. (It’s not as violent as it sounds; I’d very likely miss.)

It was this declaration that got me:

“I just want to give God the glory; his people have rallied, and you are a strong people.”

I am a “God’s people,” and I’m a “strong people,” and I’d really rather not be lumped in together with Mr. Huckabee and Mrs. Davis and the throngs of people cheering her on while waving white crosses on sticks (What in the world?) and the people who are saying she’s a victim of religious persecution and Mr. Graham, who says Mrs. Davis “has shown the world how true Christians should stand up for their convictions.”

I am a “true Christian” (I’m trying to be anyway, and it’s stupid difficult and, to be honest, a little irritating—and I’m thankful that Jesus loves me even though I just said that out loud). I’ve stood up for my convictions. Except my convictions and the Huckabee-Davis-Graham convictions don’t exactly jive. So, what is the world supposed to make of that?

It’s really no wonder Christians have such terrible street cred.

Except Mrs. Davis’ arrest really had nothing to do with her convictions. She was jailed because she was in contempt of court. Mrs. Davis was not jailed because of her Christian beliefs. She made a decision based on her beliefs—which landed her in jail. The end.

And yet, I feel a little sympathy for her. This isn’t what she signed up for. She’d been in the clerk’s office for longer than two decades before she became County Clerk in January 2015. She took an oath to discharge the duties of her office before said duties were in violation of her religious beliefs. (Except I’m still turning that one around in my mind, because she would’ve given marriage licenses to people getting remarried, and her religious beliefs should be in opposition to that, too. So I’m confused.)

I also feel sympathy for her because the media has put her personal life on display—largely, it seems, for the purpose of stirring the pot. She’s on her fourth husband and there’s a bit of paternity scandal, and that’s caused people to cry, “Hypocrite!” Except she didn’t decide to follow Christ until 2011, long after all that was going on, so that’s not fair.

Also not fair—or legal: Denying a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

I’m not pro-Kim Davis. But I’m not anti-Kim Davis, either. It’s messy. Maybe that’s wishy-washy of me, but that’s what happens when you throw human beings in the mix; I have a terrible time trying to be either fully for or fully against people. (Even Trump. God help me.)

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”

We Belong to One Another

Saint Louis Arch

Okay, it’s like this:

Deb and Adam have four children: Sam, Julia, TJ, and Sara. They’re 14, 11, 8, and 6 years old, respectively. They’re bright, artistic kids. Parent-teacher conferences are a breeze, and, more often than not, their chores are done by the time Deb and Adam get home from work.

If you ask them which kid is their favorite, they’ll smile and say, of course, “We don’t have a favorite!” They love them equally (or equally-ish, because, if they’re being perfectly honest, Julia is pretty skilled at finding their last nerve, putting on her soccer cleats, and stomping all over it).

They make sure all their kids’ basic needs are met, to the best of their ability, at all times. They’re all well-nourished, they all have a warm bed in which to sleep, and they’re all clothed in relatively weather-appropriate attire.

Now, let’s say TJ gets sick. Really sick. It seems to have come on rather suddenly, but looking back in his records, his doc now sees a pattern emerging that began quite a long time ago. How might Deb and Adam’s parenting shift in light of his illness?

My guess is that their energy and attention will be directed more toward TJ than toward their other three kids. They’re not ignoring their other three kids. They still tuck them in and remind them that they’re worthy and loved. But the parents’ focus, for a season, is on the one who needs them the most right now.

That makes good sense, right? Of course it does.

And this, my friends, is why it’s okay to say, Black lives matter” and just stop right there—with no qualifiers, disclaimers, or additions.

TJ’s life doesn’t matter more than his siblings’ lives, and no one’s saying Black lives matter more than any other lives. Rather, the Black Lives Matter movement is attempting to focus our political and social and ideological attention on the Black community, because that’s the part of our human family who could really use some heavy-duty care right about now.

And let me unwrap this metaphor just a bit more: Our loved one has needed attention for a long, long, long time—all the way back to when he was labeled 3/5 of a human being. Back to the time he was trafficked. Ever since his home was burned down and rocks were thrown through his windows and he was hanged for the color of his skin.

We thought this was resolved back in the 60s. (Well, I did anyway, as a naive, overly optimistic, white, middle-class woman.) But the dormant symptoms of systemic injustice have resurfaced and, as is often the case with a recurring illness, they’ve come back stronger. And so we must re-double our efforts to treat not only the symptoms—but to actually eradicate the underlying sickness.

In so many ways, we’ve not treated the Black community as if their lives do actually matter. And by “we” I don’t mean you and I specifically; this is so much bigger than one person’s treatment of another one person.

Let me say that again:

This is so much bigger than one person’s treatment of another one person.

This isn’t about how many Black friends you have or how you personally treat people. I’m not accusing you of racist behavior. I’m talking about the metastatic maltreatment of human beings at a systemic level.

No, it’s not our fault. But it is our fight. We belong to each other. Mother Teresa said it, and I feel it to my core. And maybe you do, too. But not everyone does. And the system—social, legal, economic, political—surely does not.


I wish I could claim this analogy as my own, but I borrowed it from my friend, Pastor Willis Johnson. I’ve sat at Starbucks with Willis for hours at a time, asking him all of my ridiculous and potentially offensive questions and listening to him share his perspective on everything from white privilege to the state of the Church. Just yesterday I was blinking back tears as he talked about our responsibility to care for one another—completely and sacrificially. Willis recently co-founded the Center for Social Empowerment and Justice; you’ll find them on the web and on Facebook. Big things are going to happen through him, his co-conspirators, and the Center. I hope you’ll follow along or, even better, join his efforts. 

This is What Theology Looks Like

There’s a decent possibility that this post will contain stupid, offensive, or disappointing content. Please know I’m absolutely open to being corrected. Please, please remember we’re friends and this is the place where I think out loud.  Also, I conceal discomfort with humor, which is rarely appropriate and often not actually funny. Grace, please. 

At the top of my bucket list, I’ve written this: Get arrested for civil disobedience. Weird, right?

A number of years ago, some long-time friends of mine were arrested at a protest in Washington, DC, and I was more than a little jealous. From that moment forward, they had the perfect response to those “What’s the most interesting thing about you?” ice-breakers. I could see their kids on the playground: “Oh, yeah? You think your mom’s tough? Has she been arrested? I didn’t think so.” *Drops mic.*

Beyond jealous, though, I was inspired. These friends of mine believed in something so thoroughly and passionately that they were willing to get arrested for their cause. How many of us have convictions that strong?

People who are aware of my desire to get arrested offer suggestions on a regular basis, usually for lame things like leaving a garage sale sign up too long or jaywalking (which, you’ll discover, is beautifully ironic). My response to such suggestions is, “Nah. That’s not worth it. If I’m gonna get arrested, it’s gonna be for something huge.”

(An aside: I can’t use the word huge anymore without hearing Bernie Sanders in my head. He drops the entirely, so it’s more like youge. It’s a Brooklyn thing, and I’m adopting that pronunciation because it sounds sort of mafia-esque…which may increase my chances of getting arrested.)

The Voiced Protest

Anyway, a couple of days ago a friend and I decided to participate in a peaceful protest in Ferguson, MO, organized by The Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson, Jr. Neither my friend nor I had ever done such a thing before, which put this opportunity squarely in the Adventure column. We do love an adventure.

This is where the disclaimer up there kicks in.

We met at Wellspring Church in Ferguson, received instructions, walked to the protest site, and soon joined our voices with other demonstrators. And by “our,” I mean “everyone else’s,” because I wasn’t saying a word. Why? Because I couldn’t be certain I could participate authentically. Why? Because I wasn’t sure I agreed with some things being said. Why? Because I haven’t had enough conversations about Ferguson and racial injustice and militarization and all those tough things we’ve been talking-but-not-really-listening-about for a year now.

So I was in a dilemma: “Should I just go ahead and voice these chants, even though I’m not sure I agree 100%? Am I over-thinking this? Is it rude to just march without shouting? Should I fake laryngitis?” Then, and here’s the kicker, “Maybe I should lip-sync.”

Yeah. I know.

I’m going to be completely transparent (offensive, stupid, disappointing) here: I considered lip-syncing because there were sundry news channels and indie film crews shooting footage, and I didn’t want to be caught on film as a sweaty, confused-looking, not-participating white chick. Also, I didn’t want the Black guys watching from the sidelines to think I was one of those white people who just doesn’t get it. Actually, any time I’m with someone from a marginalized group—people of color, people from the LGBT community, people with disabilities—I’m afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. So afraid, in fact, that I get all weird and awkward and end up saying or doing the wrong thing. So, all of this is going through my head as I’m not-chanting down West Florissant Avenue. In other words, at this point, my participation in this peaceful protest was about me, rather than in support of the community.

Yeah. I know. 

(Another aside: When I told my mom about this experience, she asked, “So, what exactly were you protesting?” Great question, and it may be one you’re asking, too. I was protesting systemic, racial injustice, and I was doing what I think Jesus would be doing—walking alongside people who’ve been deeply affected by said injustice. But here’s yet another moment of transparency: Being able to say, “The other night when I was protesting up in Ferguson” feels edgy and daring and aren’t I soooo coooool? Ugh.) (Transparency sucks.)

Okay, back to my ridiculousness (because what I just wrote wasn’t ridiculous?)… Luckily, the chant soon switched to something I could get behind without hesitation (or lip-syncing): “This is what democracy looks like! This is what the clergy look like! This is what theology looks like!” I especially dig the theology one, because it gets God out of our heads and into our hearts and our voices and our feet.

The Street

That went on for a while, we did a u-turn and began marching back in the direction we’d come, and then during a brief pause in the shouting, I began hearing a new bit of instruction: “Form a single-file line at the stoplight.”

Oh. Oh no. I know what’s about to happen: We’re about to block traffic. It’s not I-70 or anything, but it shares some similarities. Like, you know, cars.

I turned to look at my friend. “Are we really gonna do this?” she asked.

“Ummm, I dunno. Maybe? Let’s see what Willis does.”

The stoplight turned red, our signal turned white (Why isn’t it green?), and, because Willis began walking, so did we. A woman at the front of the line barked directions: “Stay in the crosswalk. Single-file. No clumping! Single-file! Slowly. Walk slloooowwwllly.”

Fortunately, we got to the other side of the street before the light turned. Unfortunately, my sigh of relief was interrupted by, “Loop back around. Keep walking. Slow down! You must stay in the crosswalk.” (Is the crosswalk the civil disobedience safety zone?)

Since we weren’t allowed to “clump,” I could no longer see my friend’s facial expression, but I suspect she had the same question I had: “So, what happens when the light turns? Are we then no longer ‘peacefully’ protesting? And are people irritated enough that they’d consider plowing us over?”

Normally when a crosswalk signal starts flashing its red hand, people take a light jog to get out of the street before the stoplight turns green, right? Well, “normally” doesn’t apply here. As I feared, the light turned green, and we just kept on walking sauntering back and forth across West Florissant Avenue. A pile of police officers stood in a nearby parking lot, watching us rather intently.

Cars began to honk and edge forward. Suddenly I wasn’t really all that interested in getting arrested—a terribly disappointing turn of events. (I fancy myself a bit of a rebel, but I don’t like getting in trouble for real.) I looked at the light, the cars, the protestors in front of me, and the cops. And I began to laugh. Right there in the middle of the street.

Yeah. I know. I’m fully aware that laughing was completely inappropriate for the occasion. It truly was nervous laughter, if that makes it any better.

This went on for several light cycles before a St. Louis County police officer approached Willis. Although I couldn’t hear their conversation, it seemed cordial enough—but nevertheless ended with the officer asking Willis to bring our demonstration to a close. Which he did. And suddenly we were done.


Since I’ve rather successfully made this thing all about me, I’m going to switch gears and make it about you instead.

It’s difficult to see things from a distance, and with the ocean of information we have available to us, it’s nearly impossible to tease out what’s real and true and what’s just speculation or even outright lies. The only way to know for certain what’s really happening is to go there.

If you do, you’ll process the media coverage differently because you’ve stood right next to that McDonald’s. When you’ve walked past a group of young, Black men in a parking lot—faces partially concealed by bandanas—you’ll be surprised to discover that what you’d really like to do is turn back and hear their stories.

At first, maybe you’ll make the experience about you, but then suddenly, because you’re there, you’ll realize how much Ferguson truly matters and you’ll feel the injustice and you’ll see the human beings—not “thugs”—who are suffering because of it. And then you’ll want to—have to—do something about it.

Which, incidentally, is what theology looks like.