Finding a spiritual ‘home’ stateside

In two days we will have been away from our longtime home of London for a month. It’s been a month of visits to the swimming pool, niece’s birthday parties, road trips and catching up on American food (in place of American TV which is awful!). Our health insurance through Obamacare has finally come through, though we haven’t been told how to pay (and my word will we pay, even in spite of the subsidy – I miss you NHS!). Our daughter is on the list for Medicaid (didn’t ever think we’d be applying for that, but grateful it’s an option while we get settled) which will hopefully come through soon. I’m so thankful that the people behind her medical coverage are actual people and are willing to go off the usual script with us as our circumstances are a little irregular.

wild goosing.JPGWe have gone to three different Christian gatherings in an attempt at finding a Christian community who meet regularly. One was the Wild Goose Festival, set in the beautiful mountains outside Ashville, alongside the French Broad River where I got to dip my toes. It’s inspired by Greenbelt, a UK festival we love. Having returned to the southeast – I still think of it as the SOUTH – at a time of such turmoil politically and with so many injustices being made glaringly obvious, it was a priority of ours to get together with Jesus followers who were more along our wavelength. Having been brought up conservative Baptist by Southerners I had no idea, honestly, that you could be a Democrat/liberal and be a Christian. So returning to the states as the black sheep with my new identity, finding a people group to feel at home with was at the top of my list. And it was a great experience.

Wild Goose was much more basic than Greenbelt, with less on offer during the evenings, but the daytime talks were second to none. Unfortunately what was lacking was a clear space for meeting new people and hatching new plans. It was very program heavy, and the only open space we found was a lovely cafe providing cheap food for volunteers and others. Otherwise, unless you were going to sign up to theology school you really had to work at the networking. Still, the talks did inspire.

The next available Sunday we visited a church that has stripped its language back so completely to get rid of references to God, adopting a language that would not cause people who have had terrible and oppressive church experiences to have heart palpitations. I get that. But I miss the connection to the millennia-old faith, and this makes me feel disconnected to the greater story. We haven’t ruled the community out as a possible home for us as the children’s service was brilliant and our kiddo loved it. And being summer it’s hard to get a full picture of much of anything with people being away. So we’ll come back to that.

This past Sunday we visited a Baptist church. Yup. But get this – the minister was a woman! And get THIS: she was a lesbian. The church has a banner outside welcoming refugees and they regularly take part in campaigns promoting equality across the board. There were grey heads all over that place, listening to this queer woman talk about Jesus. It was paradigm shifting. They have taken their hymns (which I can only take so much of generally) and written new ones that talk about gospel social justice themes. They are much more of the church I grew up with, minus the divisive and judgemental garbage that saw so many of us leave. We will have to see what this means for our family however, as they didn’t have a children’s program for 4 year olds, and while G did really well sitting through the service it may not last. Rob also misses a more enthusiastic worship style. So again, we’ll see where we are led to settle for now.

Overall, it has been good to see glimmers – not glimmers really – more like beacons of hope here in my mother’s state of birth. I have my own prejudices against the south which I will readily admit to, but I also love the south, much like my complicated relationship with my mom I guess.

I’ll leave this video link here for anyone interested in one of these beacons of hope I’ve encountered. He happens to be pastor of a church in my mom’s hometown. I’m sure she’d have diverging ideas about him, but he gives me hope for a movement I can link arms with here in this time to see the Kingdom come. Check it out if you’re interested. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTtRk8np7S4&feature=youtu.be

Finding a spiritual ‘home’ stateside

Thoughts on America, so far

Two and a half weeks have passed so far in our settling into life in ‘murica. It doesn’t feel like it’s really hit yet because life hasn’t had much chance to normalise so far. That and I’m still doing stuff like spelling things with s’s instead of z’s (zed’s, not zee’s) and too many u’s. And our daughter has had a few moments of homesickness which is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s summer break here now though so she won’t get into any real routine til late August, so we’ll just have to get by til then and hope that the incredible heat doesn’t stave off adventure. It’s hard to get outside much because it’s just too darn hot.

Driving around though I have had just a few observations. Since leaving NC 13 years ago, having lived here the 6 months before moving to the UK, I can see that there are positive changes. I’ve seen a lot more healthy food and variety available at the grocery stores (unfortunately it’s also very expensive). I’ve also seen a reasonable sized offering of authentic Mexican food ingredients (not just taco kits) in typical grocery stores in our suburban area outside of Raleigh.

I have also seen fewer Trump stickers than I had braced for (only two so far), possibly due to being inside of Wake County for the most part, but we have taken a couple long road trips. I am sure they are waiting out there for me somewhere en force though. Maybe on our epic road trip in August through Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri and Kentucky.

During our trips to the Appalachians and to Atlanta, we have driven though a few places where I noted a strong Hispanic presence, as evidenced by signs written in Spanish or people we encountered at stops. Thirteen years ago I was hard pressed to find acceptable Mexican food (coming from a town of migrant workers in California, I like to think I know Mexican food fairly well) let alone encountering very many Hispanic communities. But this time around, many of these pockets of Hispanics were in more rural areas, making me wonder about the feelings of those who have lived long term in these areas in seeing the demographic change. I wonder if they felt afraid and responded by tribally to keep out the outsiders. I thought about the rhetoric of Trump and his colleagues and how this has spoken to people seemingly in these types of settings who are pulling up the bridges to keep themselves safe.

Being from a pretty diverse area with a large Mexican and Mexican-American population I can’t imagine having this response to another group of humans entering my community, but scientifically I can understand that it’s evolutionary to react the way they have. And it’s something I want to understand and help overcome. I hope that these specific communities have dealt with it much more graciously than I’ve reckoned, and wouldn’t that be something to learn from.

I can’t say that I feel like I’m in a ‘honeymoon period’ like I’ve been warned of in dealing with reverse culture shock. But I do wonder if, due to our current lifestyles of no jobs and not getting deeply embedded yet into a community, we are experiencing a very surface understanding of American culture not unlike a tourist’s own experience. Because so far everyone is lovely, and the country is beautiful and inviting. But it does feel like there’s an anvil hanging overhead just waiting for the moment to drop, bringing a curtain down that’s covering up a whole lot of garbage.

 

 

Thoughts on America, so far

Moving ‘home’: an introduction

Equipped with the passports of our two home nations (one set which was hot off the press), my family returned to the US this past Wednesday. I look back at myself a week ago, sat in a London cafe not unlike the one I’m in now, reading back on journal entries from the past two or so years. How my heart hurt then. I  wrote like a woman abused by a lover, a lover who could totally do without her but she was unsure if she would survive without the lover. I looked back last week at these entries written about my love/hate for London and knew that this decision to return to the unknown and uncertain States was the right move.

I’m glad I did get to grab that sliver of time to reflect because here, in this cafe today, having come to mull over the theme ‘home’ for a storytelling event I’m taking part in next week, I keep fielding that internal question that has come every day: what the hell have we done. I knew the question would come and I don’t doubt moving has been a mistake, but I am struggling in these early days to know where to find my foothold here. Technology, culture, politics – they’ve all moved on so far out of my grasp. I truly feel like a foreigner in this landscape, however I do feel that I am able to connect to these people as my own. I feel a warmth there as I most always have with Americans in their open, honest and friendly approach. And now, again, I face a question I never stopped getting in 13 years of UK residency: “Why did you move HERE!?” Particularly now, people are a little baffled that at this time in history with so little appearing to be holding people together, why would we move HERE.

I look forward to using every opportunity to write about my experiences as an American returning to the states after so long. All your prayers and well wishes are warmly received!

 

 

Moving ‘home’: an introduction

Confronted by violence

Audible gasps at what was taking place outside filled the cafe which was occupied by people enjoying a rare Friday off work. Wretched from their conversations by an act of violence, rather a reminder of one from thousands of years ago, horrific and excruciating. I felt it too as I saw the crowd slowly entering my periphery carrying two heavy lumps of wood joined together as an instrument of torture and death. Sat here, fully intending to use this time to reflect on the reason for today, a stark reminder forced itself upon me.

I sat here as a fellow onlooker, not as a participant, feeling a bit like the estranged child. Even in my distance, this very morning I forced my focus on the cross with a bloodied, battered Jesus, feeling like a bystander more than a disciple. Surely those who weren’t heckling must have been deeply disturbed by witnessing such an act, much as those who have seen an act of violence on the street have felt. I wondered if I had a right to grieve today, the right to feel that guilt that Good Friday carries with it. After all, I’m not one walking the street, carrying the cross.

Then I remembered that recent moment when my husband told me about a friend who took his life. We hadn’t spoke in a few years and never were close, but news of his death hit home and made me cry. I was upset for what he had been through, what had driven him to take his life, how that would impact his family and close friends. I felt like a bystander, rocked by the emotion of such a violent act that felt a bit personal. And I can’t say I questioned the rightness of my emotions so why in this case today, where I remember that someone was martyred, suicide with a cause, on the behalf of a messed up humanity, individually and systemically.

It’s right that my satellite soul which will always orbit around my faith, however flawed, weak or unapparent it might be on the outside, should feel the grief over such a loss. It is shocking. It is horrific. It was done, this act of passion, with a heavenly womb full of everlasting hope. Hope that reminds me today on this bleak depressing holiday, while I sip my coffee, that the violence will lose. All the horror and shock and injustice will be rolled away by hope and life.

I can’t imagine what I would feel as those women who gathered at the foot of the cross while Jesus drew that last breath. The devastation of that is something I can’t allow myself to feel because mentally I just couldn’t take it. Thank heaven I exist in the passage of time that I can see the hope more strongly than the despair, though that veil be thick.

Though we be confronted by violence, may we be met with hope. May it brace us for those instances where we are confronted by love when love is painful and makes us feel so vulnerable.

Confronted by violence

A racist’s confession and challenge

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I couldn’t have been more than 17 when, grasping the white supremacist flyer, my friend and I drove up to the gas station, pulled in and made our way to the pay phone. We didn’t have mobile phones in those days and besides, it was a higher call rate number. We brought out the flyer and dialed the number carefully, holding the phone between our ears. Some guy got on the line going on about the purity of the white race, yadda yadda yadda. We were titillated.

My yearbook from that year isn’t one I’d readily pull out to show off yet look at myself. The same friend and I somehow ended up privately sharing views on white supremacy, tagging SWP and other neo-nazi jargon onto each other’s pages. We each had friends who were not white and would have never seen them as lesser than ourselves, but for some reason we started entertaining the hatred, minus any specific face to associate it with. Perhaps it was because we’d both dated a guy before we knew each other who was all about the white power. He was also the only guy who ever hit me and was verbally abusive and, for shame, I dated him twice. But I think really for me, it was because I was angry at the world and at those black guys who wouldn’t listen to the word STOP, causing my friends and I to have to physically defend ourselves. We could have just as easily hated on student journalists, which they were, or high school boys, which they also were, but we chose black.

Let my 39 year old self be clear: There is no excuse for having SWP and 88 written proudly in your high school yearbook, surrounded by innocent messages of ‘Have a great summer, keep in touch!’ If I could have a do-over…

This isn’t something I talk about, ever. I was reminded of it when discussing the election with a friend who commented that his actions and those all too familiar words against women were in the past, and we shouldn’t hold it against him. I am steering clear of discussing Trump here, so won’t comment further on that, but I will say it gave me a moment’s pause, remembering my adolescent stupidity. And truthfully, as much as I try not to hold any prejudices against anyone now, I am still human and prone to doing so, but I am only too aware of this.

But seeing these reports and videos of the increase in racist attacks in the states, hearing people’s fears of being harmed, witnessing public figures both in Trump’s crew and those riding his coat tails say things undoubtedly reeking of racism, I have to let you know this about me. Because this behaviour cannot be ignored. For the sake of your vulnerable, impressionable teenagers and children and of course, for those who it would cause physical and emotional harm. You cannot pass someone up who is publicly declaring white power and that this is what will make America great again. Don’t assume they’ll go away. Let your children see you stand up and say this is not right, not acceptable, not what you voted for. Get out from behind your ballot (or lack thereof) and stand for something in your community with your whole self. Challenge racism (and all the other isms) as if your life depended on it.

 

 

A racist’s confession and challenge

Hope, in Spite of: American Evangelicalism, Trump ‘change’ and a cruise ship of self-righteousness (let me welcome you aboard)*

Wednesday: I woke up ahead of my 4am alarm, fully expecting to see the first woman President-elect be announced. I was greeted instead with electoral college numbers that didn’t look like they ‘should have.’ Immediately I started sobbing, for the first time in my life, over an election.

I was raised in a fully red-blooded family and my first act of political rebellion was to register as Independent. I held mostly Republican values but refused labels (not realising that Independent was an actual political party, rather than a fancy word for ‘other’). It wasn’t until going to Bible College where students were encouraged to register to vote locally that I switched to Republican thanks to what I felt was a hard guilt trip that being anything else made me less Christian, as did my tattoos and wearing a Santa hat at Christmas. Seriously, that happened.

Living abroad since 2004, you could say Europe has liberalized me, and that may be true to a degree, but ultimately life has made me a more liberally minded person, seeing beyond the individual’s rights across what I feel to be a more holistic vantage point of what matters (more than just one or two issues, or personal liberty, that is). You may hear that as arrogant and judgemental, which is something I’ve been most of my life regardless of my political persuasion. It’s a personality flaw and I am working on it. What I am trying to say is that living outside of the USA has made me more self aware and it has also made me a better person which has influenced my political outlook (that sentence is only about me, not about you if you feel slammed by it).

I struggle to identify with any political party, but I knew that once Trump won the Republican party nomination there was one party I was wholly against this Presidential election. Part of me wants to say that what he has done and said in his past is unforgivable, but that is totally out of line with my belief that everyone is worthy of love, acceptance and redemption. What I think I really believe is that his ongoing comments, deceit and inexcusable positions have left me convinced that his character is not one which I trust to hold the highest position of office in the states and I believe he will put lives at risk globally on a scale we haven’t seen – not even in Bush’s time when I felt completely threatened as an American living abroad.

Does that mean I trust Hillary? Not entirely, no. I don’t trust politicians any further than I’d hope to be able to throw them (boy would I like to try) and she is not the exception. But to me, her presidency would be another in the course of politics as usual, not more dangerous, not more controversial, but under-girded by a lot of experience, good and bad. With the exception that I would be able to say that she is a woman. And I like that. Women should have the same opportunity to be as corrupt as the rest of them – so, I voted for her (and I do lean more towards her platform these days, with some policy exceptions).

So there I sat, looking at these numbers, knowing full well that people want change, and I believe that to be good… but Trump? You can keep your Trump change. The changes he has built his platform on are not the types of changes anybody that I know who bleeds red really want. I can’t believe that of them. These are people I love and trust. I can’t label these folks the way I would label Trump. So my heart broke because this guy espousing these horrific things is the top choice over a bog standard politician who happens to be a woman. I cried, and then I got angry. I’m still vacillating between the two.

In the vein of this righteous/self-righteous anger, I shared an image on social media to stir the pot. It was an illustration of Trump grabbing the crotch of lady liberty. It was so vulgar, so offensive, and it speaks to me loudly that this is what people have voted for. Not only for the violation of women (among many other people groups) but for the violation of liberty. Empowering a hateful thug. I knew it would offend my Christian network before anyone else. And that’s precisely why I shared it- to call out the hypocrisy that it could be okay to vote for someone who has committed heinous actions, uttered disgusting and mocking words and called for terrible things to happen to a variety of people groups and individuals. He has incited hate and that is NEVER a Christian value.

How could this image be more offensive and a worse Christian witness than giving such power to someone who actually does this stuff in real life?

Christians may believe that this is the course the nation needs to take in order to change, and fair enough, I’ve had a gut feeling that Trump would win and it would take America down the path it has reaped. Do I believe that God has ordained that someone with such heinous views against God’s own creation should lead the nation? Not the God I know. God is permissive, not controlling. Besides (and without getting into a theological discussion here), even if God said ‘hey this is gonna happen’, it does not mean that we have to get on board with violating every principle of Biblical ethics and Christ-likeness to validate such a course. What will be will be. Popular belief on the antichrist is that Christians should not follow or receive the seal of this individual, yet it will come to pass. And that’s why I believe the wool has been pulled over American Evangelical Christians’ eyes politically. It is at odds with God.

In riding this out a few days before writing a heated diatribe, I can also see that some may feel the same about my vote for Hillary. Perhaps her ethics are so at odds with some Christian’s understanding of God that I sit in the same boat as those who voted for Trump, according to my critique. I humbly accept this. I’m not entirely sure I believe it, but I accept it is possible that I too am floating on this sinking ship.

And this is where I’ve come to have even more respect for conscientious abstainers – those who refused to vote for either candidate rather than settle for something anti-Christ. I’ve seen red-blooded Republican family refuse to throw their hat in with Trump and certainly refuse to lump in with Hillary, and so possibly for the first time in their lives they refused to vote on the Presidential ticket. I’ve also seen anarchist friends, many Christian, who have said this is not their system and they refuse to lend it credibility. And I believe these two groups that didn’t swallow the blue pill are the ones who have taken the high road. I wonder how many of the 40%+ who didn’t vote this cycle fit into that box, not being apathetic by any means, and why aren’t their voices being sought out? How can we hear from them, the truly silent minority?

I am angry and I am sad. But I do have hope. Not hope for a Trump presidency but hope IN SPITE OF a Trump presidency. We, the people, together for the better of one another – not for a system or a party or a President. Trump will never make America great again. I’m not entirely sure what that even looks like to begin with, but by listening to our neighbour (different and similar) and throwing our weight behind them to see them succeed, we will all succeed wildly.

*Please note that I have written this post primarily to my Christian readers. There are relevant ideas for everyone, but please don’t let my language put you off if you don’t fit that description

Comments welcome, but if they get rude or inflammatory I will not approve them.

Hope, in Spite of: American Evangelicalism, Trump ‘change’ and a cruise ship of self-righteousness (let me welcome you aboard)*

In Praise of… Multiculturalism

London is said to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world. This may be in part thanks to Colonialism’s insidious reign, but fortunately it would be one of the positive things to work out of that grim history. The years have seen London in a consistent state of flux as new waves of immigrants of various shades, beliefs and experiences embrace the capital city as home. I live in one of the most diverse boroughs in London at present: Hackney, though, sadly that seems to be changing gradually.

I hail from Southern California, a town that a taxi-driver in Tijuana once referred to as ‘Little Mexico’ owing to the large numbers of Mexican farm labourers in particular. I grew up with friends of all backgrounds, ethnicity, income. As a child, it just wasn’t a thing to label people. We Californians pride ourselves on being different – and on not being known for our racism. However it does exist… boy, does it. I went through a spell as a teenager of racial hatred and white supremacy. As people we tend to identify someone to hang our hardships on and in my case I directed certain feelings towards certain people. If I could travel back in time I would give myself an extraordinary backhand.

But as a recovering racist* living in London now for almost a decade, its beauty in shades of skin, language landscape and tolerance for beliefs, it’s got to be one of the things at the top of my list about this place. Living here has further broken the back of my racist self, it’s challenged me to question my own beliefs, particularly where these beliefs put my back up against anyone else’s. Tolerance isn’t such a bad word in my book. Possibly not the best word, but not a bad one.

My fellow country-folk are in jeopardy of losing the benefit of such a multicultural stance on life: the way it changes you if you allow it to. It’s frightening to be vulnerable like that, to feel that your own culture and ways may be threatened. But if these ways are to be, they will remain unchanged, at least where they’re most truthfully and sincerely held. But with an openhandedness rather than a closed-off-ness. Or a balled up fist.

At any rate and having cast my absentee ballot today in favour of the other guy (not the one with the rage and bad toupee), I also cast my ballot (metaphorically speaking) in favour of a city that just welcomed its first Muslim mayor. Sorry to pigeonhole you, Sadiq but I’m hopeful you understand that I’m not trying to limit you to just that, but to help others see that it really doesn’t matter or that a bit of difference helps us all.

*Some other guy came up with this recovering racist thing on FB. Admittedly I didn’t watch his video or read his blog or whatever, but I think I get it. Racism is so ingrained in us it’s hard to ever really be free of it. I can only hope my fear or hatred of the other dies more with each passing day.

In Praise of… Multiculturalism