On White Privilege

Well-known and respected Evangelical pastor Louis Giglio, sitting across from Christian rapper Lecrae and the Chik-Fil-A guy, trying to have an “honest” conversation about race, said that

“…white Americans understood “the curse that was slavery” but that they “miss the blessing of slavery—that it actually built up the framework for the world that white people live in and lived in.” He added that “a fuse goes off” for a lot of white people when they hear the term “white privilege,” so he suggested a change of language. “I think maybe a great thing for me is to call it ‘white blessing,’ that I’m living in the blessing of the curse that happened generationally, that allowed me to grow up in Atlanta”…

He has since apologized for his “poor choice of words”. This dodges the issue inherent in what he said, which is this: the belief that while we would never tolerate slavery today, it served its purpose at the time in building the foundation of this nation. Further, that people of color must be patient with the white folks who just haven’t turned the corner on issues of race because we are still trying to reconcile the blessing with the curse.

This is a dangerous lie.

I was in my second year of teaching American Lit to high school juniors the first time one of my Black students said “There is something not right about white people.” I had introduced a piece from The People’s History of the United States in class in an effort to combat what I knew to be a white male version of American History. I don’t remember which piece. I don’t remember what we were talking about, or what prompted him to make the comment. I can see his face as he said it though, and he was angry.

I fought him on his idea. I don’t remember my exact words either, but I do know I wanted to impress upon him the idea that we can’t paint a whole race of people with the same brush.

I know, I know, I know.

Now, I know.

But then, it took me a few more times of hearing different Black students say the same thing before I stopped wanting to protest and started trying to understand.

Finally, in the ninth year of my career, I was sitting in a classroom with my good friend Paula, waiting for her to finish a conference with two students so we could go home. Sometimes for teachers, these are the most unguarded moments with students, and can produce the most amazing conversations.

Again, I don’t remember exactly how we got here, but we’d recently had a riot on school grounds that sparked between the Black and Hispanic students and ended  with 40 sheriffs on campus and multiple arrests. At some point in the conversation, one of the boys said “I can say this to you because you all aren’t white, but white people are not right in the head”.

“I’m not…white?” I asked.

“No. You know what I mean. You aren’t white-white, like Lakewood white.”

Lakewood is city within a city, part of Long Beach, where I grew up. And yes, Lakewood has a well-documented and on-going problem with white supremacists.

But it was more than that, for this kid. So I asked him “What do you mean, not right in the head?”

And he told me his mom had said that any people who would enslave another people and then not even try to understand the damage that caused? There was something wrong with them. Wrong mentally. Wrong emotionally. Wrong morally.

He was not the last Black kid to tell me this and I always remember it when I hear things like “I think maybe a great thing for me is to call it ‘white blessing,’ that I’m living in the blessing of the curse that happened generationally, that allowed me to grow up in Atlanta”.

Or the lady on a Facebook post the other day who said “How can we, as whites, learn, if we are only being shown hatred( or whatever the opposite of kindness is) In my opinion, even in anger and frustration, you will open more eyes by using that anger in love, or at least an eagerness to awaken.”

It is critical to the narrative of white American history that this nation was carved from the wilderness by white men who pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to found and defend the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The idea of white privilege threatens this narrative. It says our forefathers had an advantage, from the beginning. Sometimes that was money or manpower or deadlier weapons. But always there was an attitude of entitlement, a desire for domination.

When a white person says “I think maybe a great thing for me is to call it ‘white blessing’”, he is communicating an unwillingness to surrender a cultural mythology that places him front and center. When a white person says “How can we as whites learn when we are only being shown hatred”, she is asking to be treated with a patience and care not extended to people of color.

Now see all that as a person of color, with slavery or American Indian blood running through your veins.

Look from the Thanksgiving pageants about how a shipload of entitled white people came to Massachusetts and set about stealing the land and resources from those who already lived there, to the children of immigrants locked in cages at the Texas border.

Look from the July 4th celebrations over a document that says “All men are created equal” to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 188 years.

Look at Andrew Jackson’s face on the $20 bill and hear again the story of your ancestors being marched from Georgia to Oklahoma to make room for slave plantations. Then see those white faces screaming at Hispanics to “Go back where you came from!”

Then a white man of God calls all this  a “blessing”? And a white woman asks for patience and love while she “learns”?

No wonder kids of color believe there is something not right about white folks.

This is what we have to do: Listen responsibly, which means not only when it feels palatable. Seek out the uncomfortable and convicting. Make yourself sit in the pain and anger of another. Examine the ways in which you have benefitted from that pain. Reject the mythology of the founding of this nation and demand that your children be taught the truth. I don’t know what else, but others do. Find them. Hear them.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou

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On the road to emmaus

Remember Easter Sunday morning, when Mary Magdalene met Jesus at the tomb and didn’t recognize him?
Today’s gospel also happens on Easter Sunday, just later in the day. Many scholars agree that the travelers were Cleopas (named in the Gospel) and his wife, Mary, who was noted to be at the foot of the Cross with the other Marys in John 19.
Perhaps they were traveling home, steeped in pain. Jesus has been killed and now his body is gone. They’re scared, exhausted, angry, and sorrowful. Cleopas says that Jesus’ death has robbed them of hope: We were hoping he was the one and now he is dead.
A traveler joins them–it’s Jesus, but the gospel says “their eyes were prevented from seeing him”
That got me researching. Was this lack of sight divine intervention or the limitations of grieving human minds? And if it was divine intervention–both Mary Mag and the disciples on the road to Emmaus were purposefully prevented from recognizing Jesus at first–what purpose does it serve?
Turns out, most folks who know think their eyes were purposefully veiled. St Augustine acknowledges that grief may have played a role, but that ultimately it doesn’t matter why they didn’t see him. 
The lesson is in the NOT seeing.
Mary Mag doesn’t “see” him until he calls her name. Cleopas and Mary don’t “see” him until he breaks the bread.  But he was there all the same. 
That is the gift of this Gospel, and what a gift it is–Jesus himself teaching the lesson that He is always here.  He calls us by name to know him. He is present in the breaking of the bread and therefore present in us. He is the kindness of a stranger and the safety of a meal with those we love. 
Grief, fear, anger, pain–these can all veil our eyes and make us feel abandoned and alone. Today’s Gospel teaches us to trust in the Resurrection and the promises of Christ.

A Few Words About Voting, To My Christian Friends

Most of us are regular folk, just trying to carve out a connected, contented existence in this life. Our voting values reflect this desire. I am prolife, as my church dictates, from natural conception to natural death. This means that I am anti-abortion, anti-war, anti-euthanasia, anti-death penalty. It also means I support extensive and immediate environmental reforms, affordable healthcare, government assistance, open and just immigration laws, social security, medicare, public education, civil rights, equal rights and paying my fair share of taxes to help this nation function.

I bet most of you are a lot like me, with a wobble to the right or left on certain issues. Which means you’re in the same pickle as I am—it’s damn hard to vote.  The candidate who reflects my values does not exist.

How do we vote? Historically, my church has encouraged me to value the sanctity of the unborn as primary to all other life issues. But the anti-abortion candidate is not always pro-life, sometimes glaringly.  Also, abortion rates are down and the threat to the environment is universal.

This is where Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego entered the conversation in a speech he gave in January.

You can read the whole thing—but here’s how he breaks it down:

Life issues ARE primary. And after years of doing not enough, the threat to our environment (and therefore our very existence) is equal to or more threatening than the evil of abortion. They must be considered equally.

But since the candidate who will legislate as both anti-abortion and pro-environmental reform does not exist, we have to add the other life issues to the scoreboard: abolition of the death penalty and euthanasia, open and just immigration and refugee reform, protection of worker’s, civil and religious rights, assistance for the poor and hungry, promotion of marriage and family, nuclear disarmament and the protection of religious liberty.

Even this is not enough. We do not vote issues or parties into office, but people. We cannot afford to ignore the person for whom we cast the vote, no matter how aligned we are with their politics. And this consideration is three-fold.

First, we must admit that our national discourse is dysfunctional, and as a result our government has done very little good in the name of all Americans. Our nation family requires healing, which in turn requires compromise. To true patriots, who believe in the rights of all Americans and not just their own interests, it then becomes essential to select a bridgebuilder, someone who can reach across the divide and craft collaboration.

Second, they must have the same principles we try to instill in our children: truth, integrity, honor, discernment and reflection. These principles are demonstrable, and should therefore be evident.  

Third, they must be competent: Mentally, emotionally, spiritually and in statecraft. They all have resumes. It is our responsibility as moral voters to research our choices.  

This can work. Even though it may mean voting for someone with whom I do not completely align—by using these guidelines, I can make a better, more faithful decision.

Lastly, we have to refuse to participate in the spectacle. When John McCain and Mitt Romney were running for President, they were running against my candidate and, caught up the rhetoric and vitriol that is our national election, I saw them as other and enemy. Although I know that my votes for Barack Obama were faithfully sound, in hindsight I see that either of these men would have also made fine leaders, by Bishop McElroy’s standards and my own. Our presidents and presidential candidates have not always been persons of integrity, but we know what men and women of integrity look like. They build bridges, unite others, seek compromise, speak truth, reflect, apologize and are humble enough to admit they do not have all the answers.

This soundness of soul and spirit is what we should seek in a leader, and what we deserve from someone who earns our vote.

Why the high five tunnel needs to go

I knew we were in trouble when she spent three minutes telling me how she just wanted her team to have fun.

I remembered her from last year–she just wanted the kids to have fun then too, which meant playing her two best players the whole game and objecting when we stopped her team’s breakaway because it was happening on the field next to ours. “It’s just for FUN!” she yelled.

On Saturday she said “Gosh, they’re only seven.”

When I was seven, I won my first President’s Cup. When Gabe was seven, he lost his (it was five years ago and the details are hazy, but it was something like: the ref, who had a grandson on the other team, allowed an extra minute of play in which the other team scored the tying goal and then he awarded a pk in OT on an incidental handball).

One of my players has scored 15 goals in two games—four of them left footed and one that she pegged out of the air as it flew across the front of the goal. I don’t have to ask her to back off in the second half—she hangs back on defense all on her own. She’s seven.

One of my players hates it when the other team scores so much that she chased down a breakaway last week, waited til the other player slowed down to shoot and ran her off the ball. Then she cleared the ball to the sideline, not the goal line, because throw-ins are better than corners. She’s seven.

A girl on the other team saved a breakaway by grabbing my player by her jersey, allowing her teammate to steal the ball. Her coach told her never to do that again. I told her next time don’t get caught. She smiled at me because she knew I knew.  She’s seven.

My own daughter buried her head in my hip and burst into tears at halftime—because she’d only scored one goal. She’s seven.

So they’re not only seven. They’re already seven. And a meat-eater is a meat-eater they day she is born.

After the game, we shook hands and my girls went for their snacks. “Hey,” Just-For-Fun called “Don’t you do the high five tunnel?” This is where the parents make a tunnel and the kids run through it all together after the game. Fun and necessary for four and five year olds.  Last Spring, my team decided it was dumb. At the end of the game, they want one thing: snack.

“We don’t” I told her.

“Really? Why not?” she asked incredulously.

I shrugged. “They don’t like it. They’re seven.”

“Right, ” an outraged voice belonging to the dad coaching on the field next to us piped in.  “They’re only seven.”

“Yeah, you know they do the high five tunnel with the 5th graders, right?” Just-For-Fun said.

“Right,” random coach dad said, shaking his head at me. “Wow. Whatever.”

I didn’t say any of the words in my head.  

But I did watch her team run the high five tunnel, game completely forgotten.

Then I watched one of my girls Facetime her mom at work to tell her she’d scored twice. I watched another get an up in the air hug from her dad for a pull back move she used to change direction and break away.  I watched Annie kick dirt over to Shea with a puss on her face because she didn’t play the way she wanted to play. I didn’t have to hear it to know that the man I married honored her frustration by saying “Ok. What are you going to do better next time?”

And I thought What a load of BS.

This sports parenting culture that asks the meat-eaters to make themselves smaller so no one else feels badly is ridiculous.  So is flatline parenting—we can’t eliminate the highs and lows. We have to teach kids to negotiate them. And don’t even get me started on random guy popping off from the other sideline. This isn’t Facebook, friend. You don’t get to comment.

Beware the parents who are so intent on manufacturing every emotion their child feels that they will even try to control other people’s kids. Which is what Just-For-Fun coach really wanted—for my team to act like winning wasn’t important so that her team would feel better about losing.

I’m not doing that. We won 11-4. I played all eight players the same amount of time. Four of them scored. We don’t need the high five tunnel–we had lots of fun all on our own.

A $10,000 Kitchen Make-Over

Sometimes you want a $50,000 kitchen. And sometimes your husband says “We have $10,000.”

The kitchen in our 1968 ranch house was marketed as “newly remodeled”.  My husband thought it was nice.

 I thought there was a giant kitchen trying to break free, so I called my good friend Bethany from Reclaimed Cottage and asked her to bring her husband David and her color wheel and come on over.

I love Bethany because she doesn’t make crazy eyes when I say things like “Let’s cut the peninsula and make it an island” Or “Let’s flatten the ceiling and panel it”.

David, though. David had a prescient warning: “You never know what you’re going to find behind the walls. And once you find it, you have to fix it”.

We discovered that the “kitchen remodel” mentioned in the listing was DIY with box store pre-fab cabinets. They must have been on sale because two sections were of the under-the-sink variety, with faux drawers. Ditto in the bathroom, btw. The quartz countertops were also self-installed, as was the laminate counter on the back wall.

Glass half full–once the quartz on the peninsula was cut, the cabinets underneath separated easily into their prefab sections and were very easy to turn.

Opening the walls and doorways was a bigger issue. The electrical was a maze.  In order to fit the refrigerator we had to knock out a half wall and relocate the main light switches. In the process, we somehow cut a line to the back of the house. There were so many wires in the attic, it took a two week process of elimination to find and then rewire the circuits.

The peninsula did not just magically turn into an island. It was too long for code on both ends and had to be shortened. Then it just looked like a bunch of cut cabinets. Bethany designed a “look” for the island, which included beadboard, trim and a cute little bookshelf at one end, and David made it so.

We opened both the doorways and took them up to the ceiling. David removed the soffet where the peninsula used to be and we paneled the ceiling with tongue and groove pine, purchased at Home Depot and stained just a hinch to call in the mantel in the family room.

In the middle of this madness, I found a wall clock.  It’s my most favorite color palette and it informed the colors choices for the entire house.

White walls, light blue cabinets and a cherry red island in the kitchen. Soft blue throughout the core of the home. Refuge blue—the same color from our last house—in the dining room. The family room walls lean about three shades away from white towards gray and while we need a new couch and curtains in there, I am waiting to find the right ones.

I did the dishes one night in the middle of all this and realized we were missing cabinets to the left of the sink. Didn’t have the budget for one more cabinet. So I went to Home Depot, bought a stair tread, cut it in half, stained and hung it with brackets I got from an Etsy shop. Total cost: $23.

Viola-ish.

The laminate counter is still there. The quartz counters too, rough cut edges and all. The ten year old appliances. It’s all there, and will be until we can save up to replace them.

Also, the bathrooms. They are an homage to 80s wallpaper:

They have to wait. My husband said “We have $10,000”. It is what it is.

“Good Grace” by Hillsong United

You know when you hear a song and all the hairs stand up on your head? This one.

Maybe it’s because I am feeling grateful beyond words that my friend and her family escaped disaster last week when their home caught fire. Maybe too, at the love they have been shown since. God is good. People are good. Life is good.

Still. Somebody needs this today.

If it’s not you, you know someone. Tell them.

So don’t let your heart be troubled
Hold your head up high
Don’t fear no evil
Fix your eyes on this one truth
God is madly in love with you
So take courage
Hold on
Be strong
Remember where our help comes from

Play it LOUD friends. Love is all around us.

Things I have learned from having a daughter in 5th grade.

  1. This is not your son’s fifth grade. Not even close.
  2. However, the way you parented your son when he was ages 2-6 will come in handy for your daughter’s fifth grade.
  3. Fifth grade girls don’t hit with their hands, but they hit. Hard.
  4. Yes, your daughter too. I don’t care who she’s been for the last ten years. She is full of hormones and no longer in control of her body, mind or emotions.
  5. It doesn’t matter how she acts at home. Group think has kicked in and no fifth grader is strong enough to resist it.
  6. Good luck figuring out the truth. When she was little, she spoke full truth or full lie. Now she lives firmly in the gray area, embroidering her stories with perceptions, assumptions, exaggerations. Sometimes, this will leave your family howling laughing. And sometimes—almost always after you have moved heaven and earth to set up a parent-teacher-principal meeting to demand an explanation—she will concede “Well, that was the way it made me feel.”
  7. Not all teachers are equipped to handle this. They will need your patience, your permission and your help. They may think you haven’t noticed that shrieking harpy is now a facet of your daughter’s personality. The earlier you let her know that you see truth, the easier it will be to cage the harpy.
  8. Not all moms are equipped to handle this. There are a lot of reasons for this—denial, defense, deflection, among others. Moms who haven’t walked in truth the first five years you’ve known them at school are not going to wake up one morning and see. It is not your job to help them see. Fifth grade is where Mom’s Nights Out go to die.
  9. It is past time to transition away from words as your primary form of discipline. It was never a good idea, but now it’s malpractice. Words are not a consequence. Fifth graders figure out that words just have to be endured. 9th graders see words as a challenge. YOU NEED TO GET IN FRONT OF THIS. Actions are consequences. You should clear a secret space high among the shelves in your closet for all the stuff you are going to take away from your fifth grade daughter.
  10. Somewhere along the year, your girl will outwit you. When your son did it, he thought it was funny and then apologized. When she does it, she will file it away as R&D. If she’s still got a smidge of sugar and spice left, she will remind you constantly that she “got you”. If she never brings it up again, you should know she is laying strategic groundwork to own you in ways explicit and implicit for the next 7 years. At this point, her dad is already a casualty. You are the last stand. Train accordingly.
  11. Finally, if you haven’t started talking about sisterhood to your daughter, you are behind the game. In fifth grade, girls want to be friends with other girls. The problem is that they still think this has to happen in pairs. They leave their friends they have had for years and cleave to new friends. You can see how this sucks. Sisterhood is the answer.

Enjoy your summer, moms of fourth grade daughters.

Then fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy year.  

Fourth Day

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Today is the Fourth Day. Yesterday we were born again into eternal life and today is the day we begin to live like it. That’s why I want to tell you what I learned during this Lent.

I gave up 24 hour news channels.

I did it because I have watched people I know slide into anxiety bordering on mental illness over the last two years from watching these channels.

I did it because of how many times in the last six months the hot take has been wrong and caused massive social upheaval.

I did it because a friend told me she hoped her bro-in-law had been able to drag her sister away from CNN for her birthday.

I did it because these channels are an echo chamber. We watch the one we like the most and all they tell us is what we want to hear.  That’s disturbing on so many levels—but the one that disturbs me the most is that viewership is UP on these channels as we all align ourselves for 2020.

I did it because when the lady from Church called to tell me “Turn on  Fox News!” because Notre Dame was on fire, even after 40 days of not watching any of them, I thought to myself “I know something about you now.”

I did it because those channels are not reporting news. They are opining, which is not news. And they are opining for money which means their integrity is questionable at best and non-existent at worst.

I did it because I have noticed that people who watch these channels have lost their faith in humanity and joy in life. They are always angry, always accusing, always ready for a fight.

I did it because that was me.

I think it was probably the best way I could have spent my Lent and I am not kidding.  I learned something gnarly about myself:  how often I turned on those channels to get my “I’m right” validated.

I’m not going back. A little bit of distance has taught me that these channels want us to worship them, submit to them. And a lot of us have done it, especially the ones of us who work from home or at home or are retired. These channels are the noise running in the background of our daily lives—but what is it costing us?

Our sanity, if you ask me. Our kindness. Our faith in each other. Our faith in God. So many of us are scared, and faith-filled people aren’t scared.

You know what I’m not since I stopped watching? Scared. Angry. Suspicious. I’m not sure the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I’m not anxious.

I see love and light in the world. I see kindness and joy. I see work to do, for sure. But it’s not dire. It’s not endtimes. I believe in our ability to climb this mountain together because there is glory and goodness all around us.

All around us.

Turn them off. Just trust me and turn them off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do You Want To Know?

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So, Fortnight.

Don’t worry, I’m not going all Prince Harry here. To me, there’s very little difference between spending hours on Fortnight talking to friends and the hours I spent on the phone when I was 13 talking to friends.

But.

My mom couldn’t hear my friends unless she picked up the extension.

I can hear it all from the Fortnight.

I have said before that my teenage parenting strategy is to establish my crazy mom cred when my kids were young. I believe that I have done this with Gabe and his friends—the right mix of cool and I will pull my car over to yell at you, I don’t care whose kid you are.

So no one blinks that Gabe’s Fortnight is where I can hear it all. Or his phone has a mad mama control that allows me to read all his text messages. I don’t—our agreement is that I won’t unless my mom radar tells me I should.

But I could. And they all know I would.

So yeah, I have rolled into the middle of Fortnight and told some young men to watch their language and play nicely or they won’t like what happens next.

Here’s what I need to know though—if your kid is a douchebag when you aren’t listening, do you want to know?

My girlfriend’s son is 11. He plays with a kid who drops the F bomb so often she swears he’d give me a run for my money. It’s natural that my friend thinks his mom must know this, since the child is so fluent. Hard not to judge that, a house where 11 year olds use the F word in all the parts of speech and sometimes in the same sentence.

But what if his mom has no idea? What if the xBox is in his room upstairs in a house with a main floor master and all she knows is thank god for Fortnight because he’s not constantly asking her what’s for dinner?

It’s an age old mama question.

Do you want to know?

If your kid is the one with the anonymous Instagram who posts crap about other kids, do you want to know?

If your daughter is changing her clothes on the way to school into something less…modest…do you want to know?

If you kid is downlow dating someone (and by downlow, I mean that YOU don’t know but all the followers on their mom-free snapchat account know) do you want to know?

In this age where our kids are putting their lives into permanent public spaces without the proper brain function to understand the implications—or thankfully, that they aren’t as smart as they think they are—do you want to know?

I do.

I want to know.

I have told my sister mamas this. Not when my child comes to them in second mom status for a perspective that’s different than mine.

But when there is skulking, lying or tomfoolery? I need to know.

Do you?

Into the Desert–A different way to think about Lent

I have always tried to find a better way to come at Lent with my kids.

This year is no different, as we are 1 day out and Annie is settled on giving up the monkey bars.

God bless her little heart, she loves her some monkey bars.

It’s probably too much to expect a 7-year-old to be reflective, but Gabe and Kate are now old enough to learn something from Lent.

And the idea of a token “sacrifice” of chocolate or cursing for 40 days has left me wanting more. Maybe because it was always presented to me as a small thing compared to the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

But what if that’s the wrong way to think about it?

Nothing I can do will ever match what Jesus did for me.

On Sunday, a solid catechism Bible Scavenger Hunt from my partner teacher Megan dropped a new way to frame Lent into my lap.

All three of the Temptation stories in the Gospels tell us Jesus went into the desert after his baptism to prepare for his ministry.

Why the desert? If the goal was solitude, why not a boat on the sea for forty days? Or a trek into the mountains?

Why the desperate, relentless austerity of the desert?

Yes, it calls back to the forty days Moses spent on the Mount before receiving the Ten Commandments and the forty years the Israelites wandered after their escape from Egypt. Jesus is tempted by the devil in the desert and refutes the temptation, staying faithful to God, in contrast to both Adam and the Israelites. There’s a whole world of theological scholarship out there about these forty days.

But I’m just a mom in front of a laptop trying to figure out a way to grow faith in my kids, so I’m going with a boots on the ground application: Jesus went into the desert so he could focus.

In the desert, there are no distractions.

We are running with that this year: Focus—not on what we’re not doing, but on removing the distractions that turn us away from our relationship with God. Making our lives more like a desert for the next 40 days.

Pack up the toys, clothes, stuff that surrounds us. Clear out the clutter. Save money by forgoing nights out, expensive dinners, new things. Use less words, especially of the cursing and gossiping kind. Spend less time online wanting what we don’t have, or what someone else has. Spend less time watching news that is designed to scare, addict, divide. Reject all the ways we are tempted, as the devil tried to tempt Jesus, by the things of this world.

Practice simplicity. Prayer. Contemplation. Fasting.

Listen for the angels who will minister to us.

Open our hearts and hands every day to the word and will of God.

This will be our Lent, our walk in the desert. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
Matthew 4:1-2

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Violet and the Bangs

It has been a few months now, but a while back, I noticed one day that Violet, my 6-year-old, had bangs.  Suddenly. They appeared out of nowhere. The girls had just come back from a weekend at their dad’s and I asked her if she had gotten a haircut…. Nope.

Well, did your dad cut your bangs?  No.

Did your grandma?  No.

Violet, did you cut your bangs?  No.

And the Mystery of the Cut Bangs began.  

Periodically I would ask Violet about the bangs.  She always replied that she didn’t know what happened.  She couldn’t remember. She didn’t know if someone cut her bangs, or who.  It was all very strange.

Then about three months later, my older daughter, Mazie, who is 8, and I were cleaning out one of the toy bins.  I picked up a red plastic cup and Mazie said to me, “That’s the cup that Violet put her hair in.” What? “Yeah, after she cut her bangs.”

Mystery solved.  

I really didn’t care if Violet cut her bangs or not, and I told that to her.  She wouldn’t have gotten in trouble. But now, now she had been lying to me for months.  Lying to my face. And that hurt.  I do not want to raise a liar. 

Lies are slippery little suckers, aren’t they?  They’re a practiced behavior that sometimes start out so small and insignificant.  I’ve often told students that the first lie you tell someone is the hardest one to tell.  The first time you break that trust tears your guts out.  The next time you lie though, it’s easier. And the easier it gets, the bigger the lies become.  

I dated a guy once that would lie about anything.  If he had eggs for breakfast, he could swear on the Bible that he’d eaten cereal.  And he would lie about little things like that. At the time, it just didn’t make any sense to me, but when I found his emails with 4 other women, all of the lies began to unravel.  

Truth is big around these parts.  Jen and I had lots of conversations when we created this blog about Truth being the cornerstone of our writing.  I challenge you today to live in truth.  If you’re doing something you feel you need to lie about, I have an idea:  don’t do that thing! Don’t practice lying. Stop being good at it.  Walk in integrity. It’s so worth it.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what happened with little Violet, this is how it went down:  She walked back in the room while we were cleaning, and I said, “Hey Violet, is this the cup you put your hair in when you cut your bangs?”  The poor little girl never had a chance. Without missing a beat she said, “Yep!”  And then her eyes got real big.  

Mama always knows. Game. Set. Match.

I want to tell you something about that kid who had to cut his dreads to wrestle.

The ref is the villain of this story. But the failure is not his. He has been honest about who he is.

The failure rests elsewhere.

Andrew Johnson is 16 years old. I know 16 year olds. They were my whole career. And I don’t need to know him personally to know things about him.

Like how he’s stuck in that difficult place between childhood and adulthood where it’s not always clear to him when he has the right to speak for himself.

That his default is still to defer to the adults in charge when he thinks he’s on shaky ground.

That he still believes people like teachers and coaches will defend him from those who would hurt him.

They are on the ones who failed him.

I watched the video of the trainer cutting his hair once. I yelled at her to stop, stop, stop. I waited for a coach to grab the scissors. I waited for someone’s mama, anyone’s mama to rush to the floor, wrap her arms around him and protect him.

We don’t know how Andrew feels about all this today, because he hasn’t spoken yet. But we saw how he felt about it after the match. And as I watched him cry, I knew one thing:

Not worth it, not worth it, not worth.

I wish to God that the story had been about the high school athletic trainer who was fired because she refused to cut a boy’s hair for a wrestling match. Or the coach who was arrested for unruly behavior towards a ref. Or at the very least, suspended from coaching for forfeiting the whole meet in protest of the ref’s decision.

I wish the video was of parents who came down from the stands and stood around the boy to protect him. Or all the coaches at the meet throwing the ref out of the gym.

Instead, there were adults who thought a forfeit was worse than cutting a child’s hair off his head.

Adults who thought their stony silence was enough.

Adults who should have known better.

Just a few years ago, I would have read this as a story about a nasty bigot. But since then, some of us have been forced to face truth about how far we have come with racial equality. Not as far as we thought. Only 13% of Division 1 college wrestlers are African-American, which means the sport is weak at recognizing and responding to racism in its ranks.

This was it.  An abuse of power by a man who had previously demonstrated his bigotry and been allowed to return to interacting with young athletes. And the complete failure of the adults around Andrew Johnson to protect him from that abuse.

Bigots need permission. Everyone who stood and watched gave it to him.

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