Who are we?

Who were we in the past?

Who are we now?

Who do we want to be in the future?

Longview native Matthew McConaughey recently stated that based on where we live and where we grow up, we may have “allergies” to certain aspects of our nation’s history. In other words, we may be unaware of prejudices we have that blind us to other people’s perspectives.

This seems to be the case here in Longview. While one part of our local community respects heroic Confederate soldiers who died in service to a romanticized Lost Cause, “lest we forget,” as the statue’s inscription states, a different part of the same community despises the society that seceded from America to protect a way of life that included enslaving their ancestors.

Primary view of object titled '[Bodie Park]'.

The confederate monument that currently stands on the courthouse lawn was erected in 1910 and stood in Bodie Park, at the corner of Fredonia and Tyler.  In 1932, the statue was moved from Bodie Park to its current place just outside this building. An honest look at the political and social unrest prevalent in this country during that time period will reveal the motivation for both erecting this monument and for moving it to stand in a place of prominence on our courthouse lawn. 

What message do we want to send to visitors and citizens who come here? Is our message that a portion of our courthouse grounds is dedicated to confederate “heroes,” as the monument’s inscription states? Is our message that confederate soldiers are more important than veterans of other wars, as the unequal sizes of both monuments on the courthouse lawn suggest? Is our message that if you want to come vote, renew your car registration, or get a marriage license, that you must first observe this monument to history apparently honored by our community? Is our message that we have allergies so severe that we can’t properly contextualize this aspect of our country’s history?

If we are indeed one Longview, as Mayor Mack says, then we need to change that message. We need to look at our community: talented artists, beautiful outdoor spaces, cultural events that represent our community’s diverse population, family-friendly activities to keep our children actively engaged, and savvy entrepreneurs opening small businesses that are thriving even amid our country’s trying economic times. 

We can choose to keep this statue in place to protect a status quo that harms, intimidates, and traumatizes a broad swath of our community, or we can choose to craft a new vision of our city, where old and young, ethnically and religiously diverse, dedicated, hardworking, and talented people work together build something new: an accurate, current, unified message about who we are.

We are one Longview – Strongview, Texas – we have within us everything we need to bring positive change to our community.

Who were we in the past?

Who are we now?

Who do we want to be in the future?

Piece 3: Black and…

This article is part of a year-long series. If my work is helpful for you, consider a contribution through Venmo to keep the anti-racism work going.

The title song of the playlist I created last week was “Hell You Talmbout.” In this protest anthem, the singers alternate a chanted refrain of the title and shouted verses with the names of a small fraction of black people who have been killed as a result of living within this society. A society which in too many ways regards blackness itself as suspicious, as reason enough to shoot first and ask questions later.  Among the names of those victims mentioned in the song, I was unfamiliar with four: 16 year-old Kimani Gray, young mother Miriam Carey, veteran Tommy Yancy, and Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo. 

Amen

May light perpetual shine on each of their souls.

I asked at the end of that post why the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery unsettled you in a way prior murders did not. My own answer to this question is that I am angrier and more heartbroken now, but this isn’t my first time feeling tired and angry. I asked, too, why you’re ready for this conversation now when you weren’t before. My answer is that I’ve been ready in small, interpersonal ways, but I’m ready to write this series now because my kids are old enough that my fear for their safety is incredibly real, and because I want newly aware, well-intentioned white people, to stop listening exclusively to their white friends who are just now talking about race.

Listen to, read, watch, and follow black activists and organizations who are already engaged in this work. They have been living this reality for a long, long time.

During our country’s current emotional upheaval and broad push for justice in the name of murdered citizens, for substantial police reform, and for urgently needed policy change, I’ve begun to notice the spectre of a decades-old argument. Specifically, when actors Nicholas Ashe and Justice Smith announced their relationship and joined a recent protest, some of the public comments responding to their announcement called for them to set aside their sexuality because now is the time to focus on blackness. 

It seems that in these commenters’ minds, Ashe and Smith are welcomed to be a part of this movement for black lives if – and only if – they set aside their relationship and identity as queer men so as not to “distract” from the protests or cause people to “lose focus” or “take attention away from the issue at hand.” In addition to the fact that this argument overlooks the queer, intersectional foundations of the movement, it also implies that these activists’ queerness otherizes them and somehow waters down their blackness and therefore the push for justice itself.

This is wrong. And it is also not new. 

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin, the openly gay activist who was instrumental in organizing 1963’s March on Washington – the march where Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, the march that Al Sharpton has announced plans to replicate this August – was in many ways kept behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement because of his status as an openly gay man. Then, as now, folks thought that his sexuality would be a distraction if he featured more prominently in the movement. 

I confess that I’ve had to reflect on this recently. I consider myself an affirming Christian, yet there came a moment when I sat across from a friend who shared a personal truth, and I had to question my inner reaction. In my zeal to loudly affirm and learn from my LGBTQ friends, I hadn’t stopped to consider that there’s more than one valid way to exist within that spectrum. And my loud affirmation could easily be read as condemnation for folks who don’t live out their LGBTQ identity in the way I think they should.  That was wrong of me.

I have three books to suggest to you this week – all of which I have listened to as audiobooks in the past few years. Because each book contains heavy, emotional, deeply personal content, I’ll provide a synopsis of each. My suggestion is you choose the one you think you will allow you to be open and able to understand most easily.  

Gay Girl, Good God is phenomenal speaker Jackie Hill Perry’s frank account of her journey from self-identifying as a lesbian, to her struggle with addiction, to her encounter with God and conversion to Christianity, which ultimately led her to embracing a wholly different lifestyle than what she led before. (To be transparent, I struggled with the epilogue of this book and its language of “disordered sexuality.” Therefore, I did not finish it.)

In When They Call You A Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors details her early life, her involvement as a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement, her experience being harangued as a terrorist, and shares with readers the unconventional way she came to fall in love, marry, and have a child with her partner. 

Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness is a searing, heartbreaking account of her childhood as her parents’ first son. She chronicles her unique upbringing in a culture whose roots regarded transgender people as rare and worthy of reverence, and she recounts an experience many transgender youth face – resorting to extreme and dangerous measures to bankroll the medical treatment and procedures she desperately desired.

I have several reflection questions for you this week. They are designed not to elicit a certain right or wrong answer, but to prompt you to question your own biases:

Black and…
  • What qualifiers are you placing on black people whose lives you think are worthy of saving/protecting?
  • In your mind, do you expect that if black activists are members of the LGBTQ community as well, that they will set that part of their identity aside?
  • Is there any part of your own personal identity that you would set aside in order to be part of a movement to advocate for a people group you identify with?
  • Why should any black person who is working for positive change in this country feel that they must focus only on one part of their identity and not its whole?
  • Is a gay black person any less black than a straight one?
  • If one black life matters, don’t they all?

Even though this work is hard and at times may feel brutal, it’s necessary and right that we undertake it together. Come back next week, and we will continue to work toward peace, one piece at a time. 

Remember

This holiday season, I’ve carried a particular song with me more than in other years. The first time I heard “Now Behold the Lamb,” I was a fourteen year-old, recently baptized praise dancer trying to learn my first routine. There were maybe eight to ten of us girls who danced together – a few of us had solos during the verses, but mostly we danced in unison during the refrains. By the end of our first performance of that dance during church, I was in tears. I had not cried at all during practice, but something about the congregation’s response and the tears of some of my fellow dancers moved me.

Twenty-three years later, the tears still well up when I hear this song.

I have given some thought lately to new year’s resolutions, to goals and hopes and plans, as one does when a year is ending.

But as I’ve reflected on the largeness of this song in my memory and in my heart, I have wondered if maybe instead of looking forward, I need to look back.

Truly, America’s current political climate has had a hand in leading me down this mental road. How can we possibly be living amid a 21st century rise of anti-Semitism and anti-migrant sentiment? What answer can there be but that we have failed to remember from whence we came? Failed to remember who we are?

I wonder if it may benefit humankind to journey into our past to remember our common nature. At our core, we are relational beings who want to see and be seen, to care and be cared for, to love and be loved. Wouldn’t realizing this truth anew force us to see humanity in each other and act accordingly?

When I look back at my fourteen year-old self, stumbling over my words when an older congregant asked me why I cried near the end of our dance routine, I can help her answer him: I could see God’s grace so clearly, and see too that God’s incarnate grace came low in the full knowledge of who I am, who we are.

As 2020 nears, may we each find time to be still and remember who we are: first and foremost seeing and seen by a loving Creator. And may this bone-deep knowledge guide us forward in grace.

Morning Has Broken

Several years after being baptized at the age of 14, I prayerfully chose a small Christian college to pursue my degree. 

There, I began to struggle with my faith. 

Try as I might, I couldn’t unquestioningly accept my college culture’s indoctrination. I couldn’t successfully initiate conversation or debate when I encountered a doctrinal point in tension with my prior church experience. I couldn’t articulate a theological framework that satisfied my biblically-minded, confidently outspoken peers. I couldn’t quote Scriptures and spontaneously exegete parables to back up my inner nudge that something in that faith space just didn’t sit right with me. 

Consequently, I spent several years silencing my questions, wondering at the validity of my own faith, and trying mightily to “grow” into a mature, reasoned, logical church culture that pushed all feeling aside in favor of “God said it. I believe it. That settles it” – as if there is no possibility of our misunderstanding or misinterpreting “what God said.”

With God’s grace, I pushed through this stage of my faith formation, working out my salvation in fear and trembling, to arrive in a space of progressive, justice-oriented doctrine, fearless and unashamed of my convictions.

But there still was the matter of the church. 

During this time, I began following progressive thinkers and bloggers and theologians on Twitter, in podcasts, and through books. But in my real day-to-day life, here in the buckle of the Bible belt, I’d failed to make similar connections.While I never left the church physically – and even though my denomination was making strides nationally in support of same-sex marriage and clergy, and working visibly in support of reconciliation, all through the lenses of Scripture and tradition – I still felt somewhat disconnected.

And then a new priest came to town. Fresh from seminary and embodying a fresh perspective, consistent kindness, and a compassion and work ethic that plugged him immediately into the local community.

Without realizing it, I gradually began to heal in the cracked, broken places I’d previously learned to live with by keeping my wounds held close to my chest.

In a real and true way, the past two years have allowed me to exhale – with every sermon that leaned into sins of injustice rather than shying away from them, with every encouragement to articulate my ideas rather than stifling them, with each shared dinner around their table or ours.

Before I learned last month that our priest would be moving with his family to Maine, I had not realized the depth of the healing I’ve experienced these last few years. I’m not sure I can articulate what it means to have had a real-life, in-person pastor espousing a gospel centered around Christ and compassion and justice. 

I know that my faith will still challenge me at times, and that growth in Christ resembles more of a Jeremy Bearimy than a straight line. But as I prepare to say goodbye to our pastor and friend, closing this healing chapter in the life of my faith, I find myself filled with gratitude. 

I’ve been blessed by our pastor and his family. And now, reluctant though I am to accept that they are leaving, i nonetheless feel equipped to keep moving forward, in faith.

Amen.

Where i’m from

I came across this NPR poetry project recently and decided to undertake it with my students when the time came to write poetry. NPR’s collaborative poem effort was inspired by this gem by George Ella Lyon, after which I modeled my own version in order to demonstrate for my students what they’d be doing. I enjoyed writing this so much that I wanted to share it here with you as well.

I am from honeysuckle

Growing on the backyard fence

From monosodium glutamate and transfat

I am from a well-worn copy of Ramona the Pest

(tattered, torn, smelling of love)

I am from majestic magnolia trees 

Buds sweetly blossoming

Waxy petals glistening, 

From sky-high weeping willows –

The wonder of sap dropping like tears

I am from banana pudding and Pebbles ponytails,

From Ezell and Amazon

I am from too many aunties and uncles to count, 

From First Sunday communion and praise dancing teams

I am from John 3:16 and Psalm 23.

I am from mysterious matriarchs

Florence and Mildred and Sheryl and Bennie,

From don’t make me repeat myself

And from 

Shirley Chisolm, unbought and unbossed

I am from locked diaries tucked away under my mattress,

Personalized pink and purple stationary, 

lines full of hearts and one-day maybe baby names.

I am from neighborhood streets where the midnight pop outside my window 

could be a gunshot 

or a firecracker,

I am from cheesy Hamburger Helper with green beans on the side, 

Rinsed so they don’t taste like the can.

I am from what you see is what you get.

I am from here.

Slow Fade

August 2015, I was teaching 8th grade English for the first time at a small private school. I had spent hours all summer poring over the books I had scavenged from the room where the same class was taught the year before. The prior May, I had taken home several teacher editions of books to familiarize myself with material taught at this specific grade level. I felt confident, armed with my newly completed, color-coded, self-authored scope and sequence.

Then came the plot twist.

I arrived for our first teacher workday in August to find that the only class set of student books that the school owned for this class was nearly thirty years old. Because it was so old, this book was the one resource from which I had not taken any material for my scope and sequence. As soon as I realized the issue, I hustled to the curriculum director and asked for books.

All the money was gone.

Textbook needs had been assessed, books purchased, and monies depleted in May. I was tardy to the textbook party. The result of this was that I’d either have to use the 1989 textbook – complete with problematic verbiage and a few now-defunct historical perspectives – or be true to my own convictions and teach the class without a book.

Thinking quickly, I combed my memory and searched Google to find out the name of the company who published the textbook I had used most frequently for other grade levels. From there, I found several used booksellers on Amazon, printed a cost estimate for a class set of them, and re-approached the curriculum director, hopeful that some miracle would provide these books for my class.

No yahtzee.

(Apparently, tardy to the party + money is all gone =  $325 cannot be found for textbooks from this century.)

So I had to think long and hard about how I was going to teach this class. Had I really reached the point of charging a class set of textbooks to my almost maxed-out credit card?

No.

So I channeled all the energy from my frustration into a creative solution: wish list the books. The school’s biggest annual fundraiser provided teachers the opportunity to ask for special things for their classrooms. This might be the year I asked for textbooks as my special thing. 

But in the end, I chickened out and asked for a few smaller items. I received enough cash donations, miraculously, to fund my smaller items and my textbook wish.

When I tell you this whole scenario absolutely broke me, I mean it truly. As soon as I placed the order for the updated textbooks, I started looking for another job. And although it didn’t come to this, I was willing at that point, mid-autumn, to leave my teaching position immediately if a position came available elsewhere. (If you know teachers, you know a situation has to be dire for a teacher to consider this.)

As I drove home from work today, talking to my mama and venting frustrations, I couldn’t help but remember this incident from four years ago. It utterly changed my perspective as a teacher. Mind you, my heart has always been in my job. But I learned in the fall of 2015 that no matter how much I view my job as vocation; no matter how much energy I am willing to expend so my students get my best; no matter what sacrifices I’m willing to make so they get the materials they need – it can’t come at the expense of my own peace of mind.

If we take time to reflect on all of our individual workplace experiences, I think many of us have had this moment: when you realize the job can’t be your end. At the moment we start to compromise our integrity, turn a blind eye, or conversely, become so fixated on the problems that we ourselves become toxic to those around us, it’s time to step back.

Reevaluate.

Recalibrate.

Reconnect with our reason for being there in the first place.


And wish big for our lives and jobs and selves – not for textbooks.

Get out

sad tho

Have you ever cried to try and get out of something? The tears may have been real, but they also may have been amped up for dramatic effect, all in the hopes that someone will want so badly to stop your tears that they’ll do what you want?

I tried that once. To get out of a ticket.

And so did the presenter at a workshop I attended recently. The presenter shared that when she was in college, she tried to persuade a police officer not to give her a ticket by crying. In college, she had gone out with a bunch of guy friends – her preferred crew since they came with less drama than girls. I get that. And she and her group of friends engaged in a game that involved spraying a fire extinguisher at unsuspecting folks. A hilarious and terrible game to play. Eventually, they were stopped by the law. And this presenter turned on the tears to get out of trouble. Every single guy she was with got ticketed. But she did not. Her tears had persuaded the officer.

Since she had begun her anecdote by asking the room if any of us had ever tried to persuade anyone by crying, the memory of the time I tried to cry my way out of a situation with police came flooding back to me. In a moment during a break, I approached the presenter to tell her how differently our stories had ended.

Mad Season

In the spring of 2003, my bestie and I took a short weekend road trip to New Orleans to see  Matchbox 20 concert. We headed down I-20 out of East Texas, but before we could cross over the state line, I was pulled over for speeding. I freaked out immediately. I had never gotten a ticket before, hadn’t even had my car for a year, and was a poor college student trying to figure out how i would ever be able to afford a speeding ticket, especially since i had barely enough money to take this trip with my bestie.

I told the officer I’d never been pulled over before, even as I handed over my license. By the time he asked me to get out of the car and stand by the trunk, I was ugly snot crying. I barely noticed through my tear-blurred vision that he approached my bestie’s side of the car and talked to her briefly before returning my license to me, handing me my ticket, and sending me on my way.

But y’all. This is not the extent of the differences between the presenter’s “tears of persuasion” story and my own. My bestie told me years later that when the officer approached her window, he asked her if she was there against her will.

When I shared this with the presenter, her jaw dropped. She was – appropriately – shocked.

And of course you will have guessed by this point that both my bestie and the presenter are white women.

legacy

Near the end of the last act of “Hamilton,” our hero pauses just before he’s shot dead by Aaron Burr. This long pause gives Hamilton time to muse on his legacy – what the word means, what his will be – and to say goodbye to his wife and hello to his mother and son.

Legacy, says Hamilton, is planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.

I could not help but think of these words upon learning that Rachel Held Evans passed away this morning.

I first became aware of Evans’ work years ago, when I began reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I met this book during a time in my young adulthood when I was beginning to unpack some of the theological teachings I was spoon-fed in college. I was questioning the legitimacy of the idea that women are *supposed* to be stay-at-home moms. I was questioning the validity of the idea that all women in the church are subordinate and/or complimentary to all men in the church. I was questioning the accuracy of prevailing biblical interpretation that condemned homosexual people either to celibacy or damnation (neither of these options being valid enough for full acceptance into the body of Christ).

And I did not know then if it was possible to hold beliefs that felt true in my heart and still be a part of a church or a Christian at all.

Rachel Held Evans’ thorough, insightful, transparent work taught me that theological indoctrination does not supercede the truth of God’s word or outweigh God’s ability to speak truth to my heart.

When I ran errands around town today with my younger son, I thought repeatedly that Evans will never do this with her own kids, who are still practically babies.

And yet.

Look what she’s left them: not only her love, plenty of pictures (I’m sure) that will immortalize memories they themselves are too young to hold onto. But she’s also left them this wonderful body of work that chronicles the working out of her salvation, in spirit and in truth.

I have such a deep thankfulness that Evans shared her words with the world. But my words are few and tears are many at this moment. I don’t know if there’s anyone else I’ve never met whose had such an impact on who I am.

I’m so grateful she’s left this legacy to her babies and to us all. A legacy of faith and truth and a spirit of boldness.

Amen.