Why our reactions to tragedy matter.

When a mass tragedy occurs, we react. We exhibit compassion, fear, anger, revulsion, confusion, or some unidentifiable emotional cocktail. Strong feelings can move us to act and this is a good thing. Intense emotions can be harnessed for positive actions and God, we need so much positivity right now.

We react most effectively when we feel a connection to trauma and we’re naturally wired to care about the issues which directly affect us. It is how we function best in a community because it fosters the understanding that what impacts one of us impacts all of us.

Take, for example, that I am a straight, cis-gendered woman. Despite this, Orlando broke my heart thinking of my LGBTQ friends and how it could have been one of them at Pulse.

Or how I am a Christian, but when I hear fear-mongering Islamaphobic comments, my heart hurts considering how those words fall on the ears of my Muslim friends.

Or that I am white, but when I hear the skepticism regarding the validity of the Black Lives Matter movement, I am horrified when contrasting this sentiment with the individual stories of fear and systemic racism experienced by my black friends.

And when I read about Nice, France last night, I felt a visceral fear over the safety of my Maman Français, with whom I lived just outside of Nice on a college study abroad- a city and country which has shaped so much of my adulthood.

Each of these mass tragedies moved me to speak up and speak out because I felt connected to them despite all of the ways which, at first glance, would place me separate from those immediately impacted. I have to constantly push myself to seek to understand those around me even though my natural reaction is often to retract inside of the safety of that which I am comfortable. It is hard, emotional work to overcome the apathy which threatens to mute my words and silence my actions.

Friends, we can no longer tolerate apathy in ourselves.

Apathy is at risk of creating more dangerous outcomes than fear and hatred. When we see tragedy replayed and repeated, our inclination is to shrug with the sense of futility in it all and then tune out completely. It is a defense mechanism which we must actively fight to reject.

Danielle, my Maman Français, in Nice upon a return visit to introduce her to Ryan, my husband.

Danielle, my Maman Français, in Nice upon a return visit to introduce her to my husband.

Ideally, individual relationships bring about the most change but they take time and, because of this, the power of first steps cannot be underestimated. We can start by looking up open community events, visiting a museum we may not have otherwise considered visiting on a vacation, reading literature written by authors outside of our race, religion, lifestyle, gender identification, or native country, and considering joining a Facebook group open to those willing to learn. Relationships stem from a genuine desire to listen and understand. First steps, even small ones, matter.

Our hope in the midst of such brokenness is our connection to faces, names, and stories. They move us forward. They bring the macro back to the micro. They refocus our perceived futility. This we can do, WE CAN DO THIS. We must take the small steps, friends, so we may be well equipped to bring light in the midst of darkness.

Listen well.

Read widely.

Extend a hand.

Lend an ear.

Love well.

Reject the apathy.

 

 

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When all seems broken.

A few nights ago, I got into a Facebook disagreement with a friend of a friend over the Syrian refugee crisis. I took offense to his comments which I found intolerant and ill-informed and we (respectfully) engaged in an exchange which unfortunately culminated in a response which was both chauvinistic and patronizing toward me. I chose to end the discussion there; I’d already said what I wanted to say and nothing gets accomplished when name calling enters in.

I left the conversation feeling hopeless and, frankly, pissed. I am all for the difference in opinions, but this week it’s felt like fear has completely taken over rational thinking in our country which means fear has also trumped the need to back up an opinion with any type of credible source. The prejudice, the racism, the xenophobia has been on high alert and I have been horrifically transfixed by the onslaught of distasteful posts on social media.

So I handled my anger the way I often do: I took to words. I typed a retort I was all ready to post as my status, all ready to tweet. It wasn’t going to be visible to this friend of a friend because I wasn’t responding to him. Yet I still needed an outlet for my feelings of having been belittled and hurt so, in passive-aggressive retaliation, I strung together a collection of words which eloquently put my irritation into prose. I was all ready to post and then…

I couldn’t.

I just couldn’t.

Earlier that night I’d cried to Ryan because some of my 7 year old students are going through some terribly heavy life experiences. I’d cried at the absence of hope and compassion on social media. And I recognized, finger hovering over that ‘post’ button, how I was about to throw my own bitterness out into that mess.

So I let it go. I convinced my little sister, always my defender, to let it go when she texted that she’d seen the exchange and wanted to throw in her own eloquently worded response.

It was so hard. SO HARD. I wanted to put my hurt on display because it seemed like the best way to release the frustration I was feeling. That one flippant comment directed at me had grown to represent the multitudes I was up against and I felt ill equipped to combat them. Words, on the other hand, serve as my sword, my shield, and my salve, and in this instance I wanted to wound in response to the repeated gashes I’d been reading all week. It made me want to hurt out of exasperation and hopelessness.

And yet, in deleting that post, I also felt strangely better. I’d been given the choice to release more bitterness into the atmosphere and I chose not to. Even though I wasn’t aiming my comments directly at someone. Even though my words didn’t seek a response. Even when I didn’t want to and even when I had to convince myself of it again later in the day, I chose to forgive and move up and on. I defended my beliefs, I spoke with respect, and even though it was hard, I CHOSE TO SPEAK LIFE. I had to let the rest go.

So get mad. There are many things worthy of anger right no

Find your voice. Stand up for what you believe in.

Do these things, but do so by speaking words of life into a world filled with death and brokenness. Do so by stopping yourself before your words cease stating your opinion and begin degrading or dehumanizing. When we respond to fear and anger with more of the same, we’re perpetuating a cycle of hopelessness.

I don’t want to perpetuate hopelessness. There’s enough of that going around.

I don’t want to speak more pain into an already hurting world, even if my initial intent is to bring justice. It isn’t bringing justice to speak against intolerance by feeding the same vitriol through my own lips. Deleting that post was difficult and a part of me wishes I’d still posted it, but I’m okay with it. I picked the tougher choice, but it was the right one and for that, in a world swirling with negativity, I’m learning to be okay with covering just a small bit of the hate with grace and peace. I can’t fix it all and I can’t change the mindsets of the masses, but I can choose my words wisely and I’ll go down fighting for the side of grace and peace.

 

It is hard not to feel better about life with a double rainbow, the larger of which actually doubled over on itself and started its color pattern over again. Costco and rainbows. That was my reward for shutting my mouth today...

It is hard not to feel better about life with a double rainbow, the larger of which actually doubled over on itself and started its color pattern over again. Costco and rainbows. That was my reward for shutting my mouth today…

 

Why Aylan’s shoes should make us rethink everything about humanity.

When the photos of Aylan Kurdi were released, the world reacted in horror. That picture of such a tiny boy face down on a beach put an image to a crisis from which we feel irreparably detached. When my son was 3, he dug deep wells in the sand and, oblivious to the length at which it was possible for water to travel onto land, attempted to dig a crevice to connect his toddler made puddle to its far larger, lake counterpart. Little children were never meant to wash up onto the shores of beaches; they were meant to sit atop damp towels and eat sandy lunches on them.

I just finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book, Between the World and Me. At one point in this letter to his son, he writes of viewing the history of slavery:

“I have raised you to respect every human being as singular, and you must extend that same respect into the past. Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind is active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, who excels at dressmaking and knows, inside herself, that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone.” (emphasis mine)

Coates is not a religious man, but I could pray this in a heartbeat, that we would all see mass injustices as atrocities affecting individuals as opposed to issues that impact, say, “refugees”- a noun which releases all responsibility from the rest of us to see beyond the country, the cities, the villages, the boats, and instead see the homes, the families, the Aylans. I heard another interview in which one man spoke of how Aylan’s shoes impacted him. As a father of little boys, he knew how lovingly he dressed his children in the morning and realized how Aylan’s parents must have velcroed his little shoes that morning with affection and fear, knowing what a hard road lie ahead of them.

When images like the one of Aylan strike our soul, it is because we are forced to look, with a hand on either side of our face, at the appalling individualism which is glazed over as a nameless, faceless, mass. It may be too big to comprehend, but Aylan was tiny. He was only 3 and far from an unidentifiable multitude.

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I’m not the only one who feels ill informed; the first suggestion Google offered was about Syria.

We must educate ourselves, yes, but we must also elbow past the daunting, glaring impossibilities wars pose and see only that there are people suffering, people who pull socks onto the feet of their children, who kiss their spouse goodnight, who have a favorite food, song, book. Over 6 million Syrians have been displaced, which is an incomprehensible number until you imagine trying to count your way, one by one, through those more than 6 million people in order to offer the level of empathy each deserves. More than 6 million individuals with their own stories and triumphs and heartbreaks. Dear God, let us remember to look past the numbers so we may be moved to movement, to opposition, to empathy. We need to be more intentional in seeing individual people in crisis so we are more likely to extend kindness, care, aid. Aylan was a refugee before he drowned; there are millions more waiting for us to show our solidarity, to show we also care about them while they are still alive.

 

Here’s one movement started in the wake of Aylan’s death. Click to find ways you can begin to be more involved and educated. #wewelcomerefugees


Should you be an
emotional like me, or simply feel ill equipped in your knowledge about the war from which he was fleeing, below are some background overviews from a variety of sources to get a crash course.

BBC: What’s happening in Syria?

The Washington Post: 9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask (2013 article, but still useful)

BBC: Syria- The Story of Conflict

MercyCorps: Syria: What you need to know about the Syria Crisis

Unilad: This cartoon succinctly explains the background to the Syrian conflict

 

 

On Muslims.

In college, I studied abroad in London. One of our courses required us to locate some landmarks around the city, one of which was London Central Mosque. I’d never been inside a mosque and chose to go inside. I was welcomed kindly by a male greeter who certainly knew I wasn’t there to worship, as I had no clue what I was doing. He helped me find the spot to remove my shoes, gave me a scarf for my head, showed me where to walk up to in order to see inside. All of it was done with an honest welcoming. As I was leaving, he asked if I would like any literature on Islam and, when I said yes, he gave me a booklet on Islam as well as a hard cover Qur’an which I still have a decade later. There was no pressure. There was no appeal for my phone number or email address. There just was a man who loved his faith and wanted to share it. That was it. I’ve had less welcoming first visits to Christian churches and I AM a Christian.

Since that time, I’ve met many Muslims, I’ve got friends who are Muslim, I’ve taught Muslim children, and I’ve visited Egypt where I was also welcomed with open arms. As a Christian, my experience with Muslims has been nothing but positive and accepting despite our differences in faith.

I wish I had the permission to post the pictures of the Egyptians we met so you could see their real faces with their smiles and laughter and daily lives.

I wish I had the permission to post the pictures of the Egyptians we met so you could see their real faces with their smiles and laughter and daily lives.

That being said, it has been painful for me to watch and read the vitriolic commentary on large scale and social media sources regarding the equal treatment of Islamic terrorists and all other Muslims. I am not Muslim any more than I am an African American or adopted or gay, but I love Jesus and I am called to stand up for injustices against those groups and what the media is doing to Muslims is also an injustice. What some Christians are saying about Muslims is an injustice. You don’t have to identify with someone’s race or religion to stand against mistreatment; Jesus teaches this.

I am only one voice and I am not ignorant enough to believe that my one voice is enough to fix an enormous brokenness, but I also don’t want to keep quiet out of feared ineffectiveness. I certainly don’t want to start claiming my faith with all of the disturbing offshoots that somewhere FAR along the line began as Christianity and now promote the marriage of little girls,live in cultish societies, or protest the funerals of people who whom that group views as the very worst of sinners. I also don’t want to define the entire society of white America by the mass murderers, the school shooters, the outspoken racists who happen to also be white. One voice I may be, but with this voice I want to make it clear that I am a Christian and I am white and I vehemently disagree with the hatred flying so free lately under the false veil of patriotism or faith.

There is a powerful piece titled I, Racist, in which the author speaks about institutionalized racism and writes the following for a different story, same plea:

“So I’m asking you to help me. Notice this. Speak up. Don’t let it slide. Don’t stand watching in silence. Help build a world where it never gets to the point where the Samaritan has to see someone bloodied and broken.”

There is always more than one story. Not everyone feels the same, despite how heavily the media would like us to believe. Not all whites are murderers. Not all Christians worship in cults. And not all Muslims are terrorists.

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Teach them to stay open.

A few days ago, an Amber Alert was issued for a little boy from my hometown by the name of Omarion, “Mars” for short. It was a particularly complicated case as he went missing while in the care of his foster family and was autistic and nonverbal. My small, Midwestern town rallied and searched and prayed and, five days later, his body was found in a lake in the city park which had just recently opened following much fanfare and planning.

It was impossible not to follow the case as it unfolded since there were so many posts on my social media feeds: the searches, the leads, the birth mother speaking out, the foster family keeping quiet. It wasn’t long before speculation began arising about who was to blame. Conspiracy theories bounced around and fingers were pointed. When tragedy strikes, we like to identify the root of the issue. Speculation is a natural human response to explaining the unexplainable. I watched and I mulled and I felt uncomfortably conflicted and so I mulled some more until I could put my finger onto why I felt so unsettled about my reaction to this boy’s too short story…

… and then I read this news story recalling his history:

“Omarion wears adult clothes held up by a belt and wears shoes with no soles. Omarion’s teacher provides Omarion clothing that he changes into before class starts in the morning,” court documents in Oakland County said. “Omarion is frequently bullied by his peers due to poor hygiene and for body odor. In the past, school personnel have had to give Omarion sponge baths due to his overwhelming body odor and hygiene.” (Source: Mlive)

At that moment, I realized why I was feeling uncomfortable: Mars’s tragic passing was uncommon, but his life beforehand was not. That description above? That could be detailing normalcy for any number of children living in poverty. I’ve seen it and I teach them and I’m telling you not in condescension but merely as a voice for the voiceless, this is so very disturbingly normal.

photo credit: andré´s converse via photopin (license) (No changes were made)

photo credit: andré´s converse via photopin

  • Shoes 3 sizes too big or too small
  • Pants that look like capris but are really just a younger sibling’s clothes
  • Odors of human or animal feces or urine
  • Lice jumping off heads onto tables
  • Bedbugs hiding in homework
  • Skirts in the dead of winter
  • Shirts worn 5 days in a row
  • Teeth broken in two from poor hygiene and diets
  • (And that list doesn’t even begin to address the homes of mattresses with no sheets, dog shit covered floors, roach infested kitchens…)

I know these things to be true because those are all truths from my own experiences as a teacher. That little boy’s story is shamefully normal. 

Now, lest we begin to jump on the judgement train again (and trust me, I’ve had quite a few therapy sessions revolving around resisting the urge to become completely jaded after years upon years of the same) it would do us all good to leave space for a couple of truths.

First, let us remember to be extremely careful of falling into the trap of the Single Story.

This TED talk absolutely beautifully illustrates this point, but allow me to apply it to this situation.

The foster family: On one hand, Ryan and I definitely made some crazy eyes at each other in our foster care training classes. There are some Crazy (with a capital C) people out there. Listen, they didn’t put this clause in our foster parent handbook because they were afraid someone might do it:

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On the other hand, fostering is hard. Fostering a child with special needs is hard. We don’t have enough foster families as it is and, even if these foster parents are found guilty of negligence, it is important to understand that fostering is deeply complicated in even the best case scenarios.

The birth family: First, it was difficult for me to hear Mars’s birth mother speak out about her missing son because the media was really throwing out the heartbreaking mom story. Single story, friends. Beware the single story. Certainly, definitely, grieve for this mother whose son went missing while under the care of another, but let’s not forget why he was with the other in the first place.

And yet, blame is heavy; let it not rest too heavy on any one individual. As terribly conflicting as it is to accept, when children are taken from unsafe families it should not be equated with that family not loving their child. I’m not offering excuses for atrocities brought upon children. I am offering that we remember not to judge from a Single Story. Some people really suck as parenting and there are a whole host of reasons for why this occurs. Love, (as all of us who understand that any family is complicated), is sometimes just not enough.

Finally, may this serve as a reminder to all of us that we are constantly surrounded by poverty, constantly surrounded by child maltreatment, EVEN WHEN WE DON’T SEE IT. I am  surrounded by it and I still have to fight to truly see because it is so much easier to look away. But we have to look. If you don’t see it in your daily life, I encourage you to find a way to look harder. We aren’t heartless, just overwhelmed, so start small. Talk to a friend who works around poverty. Don’t skip over the journal articles about how poverty impacts children. Talk to a staff member of a school in an area of high poverty. (Remember, it doesn’t just affect urban areas. Poverty impacts rural schools just as often.) Talk to someone who is currently living in poverty.

We don’t have to fix it ourselves. We don’t have to have all the answers. We just need to stay aware. We need to get to the point where we understand that this little boy’s life wasn’t an exception to the rule; get to the point where his history horrifies us because it is yet another example of inequality and not because it is shocking in its originality.

Start small,

Beware the single story,

And keep your eyes open. Teach them to stay open.

 

photo credit: andré´s converse via photopin (license) (

Why white Christians are looking at the black church in America all wrong.

It is probably best to just throw it right out: White Christians need to evaluate the ways in which we view African American Christians.

Now, with that out there in the open, allow me to break things down a bit. Bear in mind, my writings are those of a white, American Christian. If you want to understand more of the experience of being an African American in our country (and you should), I implore you to read words from their voices. Me? I’m talking to you, White America, because from there I can speak with experience.

That being said, permit me to share some truths which have been left out of our nonexistent dialogue about our views of the black church in America. Set aside the stereotypical qualifications you may have already used to tag it in your mind: the worship style, the length, the preaching. Set all of that aside for a moment and try viewing history through a different lens.

Chances are that every February, for Black History Month, you learned in school about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Rosa Parks? You could recite facts about them from memory. As a teacher, I need to admit that we have also been numbed into regurgitating the same facts every year. In the bland retellings, the textbook readings, they lose their power to disturb, to move to action, to cause a rethink of the status quo if we are not diligent about making history fresh each time we teach it. However, one year as I retold the story of the bus boycott, what blindsided me was the unbelievable level of FAITH it took to actually accomplish that boycott. I don’t like waiting for things and despite often going through the motions of praying, I quickly lose faith when I don’t see results. SO quickly. What they knew about that boycott was that it was good, it was right, and that God wanted the same outcome. And so they waited. They waited for 381 days- over a YEAR- for God to answer a prayer they trusted Him to answer. I am humbled to think about how likely I would have been to just say, “Screw it. This isn’t working.” And it would have happened in about 370-ish less days than the 381 they devoted. Such great faith. Why are we not learning about the Montgomery Bus Boycott in our churches?

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Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain image

Now I need to ask you again to set aside what you’ve learned about our nation’s history of slavery in school. For a minute, think about it in relation to Christianity. For generation after generation, plantation owners horribly misconstrued the Bible to condone slavery. By these same plantation owners, African Americans would have been told lies of the God they also worshiped. And yet, their faith had the strength to see through the blasphemes. They knew God’s character. The God they were taught did not line up with the God they followed and believed in so they rejected the lies. My faith is rocked by the smallest of bumps and I too often swallow what others tell me about God as opposed to deeply knowing Him in a way that substantiates my beliefs. This realization reminds me of how often we are all going through the motions- missing out on a faith that conquers the lies that society feeds us. I want a faith that is that real, too.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain image

Having said all of that, it still seems as though we whites assume, without ever uttering it to ourselves let alone aloud, that we don’t all really worship the same Jesus. We put churches into boxes labeled ‘US’ and ‘THEM’ and continue to segregate not only our Sunday mornings, but the images in our minds as to what it actually looks like to live as the body of Christ. We forget (Can you forget something you never realize you chose?) overlook Jesus’s teachings that we are all brothers and sisters under the SAME CHRIST, residing under the SAME GRACE AND GODLY AFFECTION. God did not tell us, the white people, to go help ‘the suffering African American people’. He told us, all of us, of every race, to love above all else. We are equal heirs. We should not be moving to stand with our African American brothers and sisters (Christians or not) as a result of having somehow been led to believe that we hold the monopoly on following Christ’s teachings of caring for those in need. (We are not, as it turns out, God’s gift to the suffering peoples of the world.) We should be reacting to their unequal, unjust, and un-Christlike treatment out of the overflow of our hearts because our hearts should break for the things that break His and RIGHT NOW, our hearts ought to be overflowing with despair over the treatment of members of OUR FAMILY, who are all equally loved by a God who did not design us to worship, support, and live divided.

If we truly believe that we, as Christ followers, are to be the hands and feet of God, then for the literal love of God, we should be doing a better job of functioning as one body. There is much that is broken. There is much to restructure. There is much to rethink. God is the best place to start the process and, as it turns out, we both reach out to the same one. IMG_0207

On being an Emotional. Capital E.

I’m what I would call an Emotional. I wish SO dang much I could call myself an Intellectual, but I’ve sat through enough discussions with friends who genuinely ARE Intellectuals and honestly, I’m not one of them. I can’t hold my own despite the best efforts of NPR, The New Yorker, and BBC News.

What I DO is feel things really big. I mean, I’d like to say there’s more to it, but a lot of times… there’s not. I feel REAL big.

I’m an adorer of books but, even with books I’ve read multiple times, I can’t remember all of the names or the sequence of the plots. This also goes for movies and tv shows.

Things I do remember (ALL emotional):

1. The degree to which I felt repelled or connected to a character or setting. (Examples: Repelled- every single character in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book; Connected- Matilda, Jo March, Jane Eyre; Setting connection- The March girls’ attic, the trail to Ms. Honey’s cottage)

2. The level of grief I went through over character relationships. (Examples: Low- Hunger Games; High- Divergent)

3. The intensity with which I still visualize the settings I created upon first readings. (Movies can sometimes mess with this, but not the firmly implanted ones.)

My brain’s not big on remembering events and times and dates and names. If I’m being honest, I wish I could change this about myself. I am jealous of those who can step  into well articulated debates and speak with eloquence with educated points. It isn’t as though I want any part of me to disappear, I just want more parts to APPEAR along with the others. An Emotional Intellectual. (Call me greedy.)

A negative side effect of being an Emotional is that I often get overwhelmed with the level of atrocities around us on a local and global scale. At one point last year it was so heavy that my body literally felt heavier. I felt physically weighted down with grief at all of the awfulness. Do you know this feeling?

A few weeks ago, the father of one of my students died unexpectedly, leaving an 8 and a 5 year old behind. The 8 year old is in my class and he was a personal favorite of mine before this- already this tough little boy with this soft heart. (I’ve always got a soft spot for the naughty little boys.) After his dad died, it was awful. He would act out in class and a few seconds later I’d look over and he’d be crying these silent tears or he’d just lie down on the floor under his desk and not move.

That’s the kind of heavy I deal with daily. It is heavy enough without the rest of the world dropping the ball with hunger and poverty and AIDS and unclean water and sex trafficking… and… and…

I’m an Emotional.

So I reached out via Facebook to ask for some new clothes or art materials for the two boys. Certainly it wouldn’t bring their dad back, but I also believe in the power of goodness and DEAR GOD, those boys needed some good.

Social media can be so unbelievable in the best ways. Friends of mine shared my post. People I didn’t even know started contacting me. I set up a Paypal account for donations at the suggestion of others. They brought clothes to me, sent money, gave art supplies. In a week, I had 4 full boxes to give to those boys and $300 to be able to take them shopping with their mom to let the boys pick out some things on their own.

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Most of the people who gave had never met either of the boys. 

**COLLECTIVE SIGH OF RELIEF**

People are good. People are waiting for ways to help. Not everything is broken!

(Except maybe my Intellectualism. I’m still waiting for that gear to kick in.)

The REAL Santa is white (?)

Shortly before Christmas, my son and I were talking in his bed at bedtime. Isaac adores Christmas. (We are currently in the midst of a heavy Christmas song detox period. Last year we didn’t implement one and ended up with a child provided, Christmas-themed soundtrack until Easter. *shudder*) At one point in the bedtime conversation, Isaac said (as a statement of fact), “Mom, I know which Santa isn’t the real one. The brown one.”

I know. It WAS as awful as you’re imagining you’d feel.

It scored near the top of my list of “Hardest Things to Hear as a Parent”.  There are many instances in which I’m hyper aware regarding race including: when my son is the only face of color in a room, when books we read have no children of color, when comments are made regarding race that are inappropriate for my child’s ears, and on and on. The primary reason the Santa comment left such a resounding smack was because I hadn’t seen it coming. You know why? BECAUSE I’M WHITE.

When I attempt to make some sense of the current race discussions, it is so hard to wrap my mind around the issue because I just can’t see it the same way as someone who is black. I readily admit that. Despite that I agree there exists a serious issue regarding racial inequalities our country, I think it is important to admit that I cannot possibly know the depth of that issue because I don’t experience it first hand on a continual basis. But for the people who say that they just don’t see a problem, or that it is being blown out of proportion, I present Exhibit A: my child’s Santa remark.

Like a tiny window, I could see that here was a specific instance in which I hadn’t assumed this to be a confusing concept for my child because I had assumed the same conclusion my son had reached: Santa is white because everywhere I see Santa, he’s white. I never questioned an alternative because my brain never classified it as something that needed to be challenged. I didn’t see it as an issue because it was never registered as one; it was just assumed to be fact. Santa is white because I am white because I am surrounded by a world that tells me that white is what is accepted. How must that feel for my son who is black? I suddenly had this awful realization that if I had accepted Santa’s race so readily, how many other things have I unwittingly filed as truth merely because I was never afforded the opportunity to challenge it? Rather, society never offered me an alternate view to consider. (As an interesting side note, the original St. Nicholas was born in Turkey, so he most likely WAS darker skinned. Considering this post is centering around Santa, I will refrain from stepping onto my soapbox about how Jesus’s skin would most likely have looked. *cough* Not white. *cough*)

I sometimes struggle to take seriously the pieces written by other white writers regarding the struggles minorities in America face in which they align themselves with the minority in a way that seems to be speaking FOR that group. I think it is ignorant for me to assume I can ever truly know how that experience feels and I think it is some form of ignorance, or at least indelicacy, to think that I can explain how it must feel to be discriminated against as a black person. On the other hand, I think that we have every right, and duty, to push society’s envelope when our personal experiences challenge the status quo. The brown skinned Santa discussion? It blew what I considered my open mind. What you think you believe isn’t always truth; just because it may not be an obvious disparity to you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Can we at least be honest in admitting that?

Our new Santa.

Our new Santa.

PS- Shortly after this discussion, I burned rubber slamming on the brakes in front of an art gallery downtown that had a light up black Santa Claus in its window. I asked them if I could buy it, was told no, told them my story, and suddenly it was mine.

Isaac introducing his animals in the box sleigh to Santa.

 

Also, a beautiful friend made a special Christmas Eve delivery from Santa of a personalized book about Isaac and  Santa (brown skinned) as well as a brown skinned Santa figurine. We packed up all of our Christmas decorations yesterday and that was the one thing Isaac asked if we could keep out all year. It is on his nightstand.

Isaac's new roommate.

Isaac’s new roommate.

In defense of the good guys: Santa Claus

My Facebook feed has been alight lately with Jesus-loving parents wrestling with what to tell their kids about Santa Claus. They state understandable reasons: Santa blurs the line between fact and fiction (read: lying), he promotes rewards based on works (the opposite of grace), but mostly that he just creates too much competition with a baby in a manger.

Since I’m a pitiful, in-recovery people pleaser, it immediately made me feel embarrassment that we DO Santa at our house. It made me second guess our decision. Am I a bad Christian because Santa Claus comes to our house? (Oh my word: I am!) And is my son is going to grow up and have to go to counseling for whatever symptoms result from being told that Santa is a fake?! (He is!) Conclusion: I AM A TERRIBLE PARENT!

After praying through some self-imposed guilt, I reassessed the situation. I totally respect the decision not to do Santa. I wrestled through many of the points made by families who don’t and I completely support that choice. I’m not trying to convince anyone that they SHOULD do Santa. I just felt like Santa had been getting kind of a bad rap this Christmas and thought maybe he needed a bit of a pick-me-up. A grown-up Santa letter, if you will:

 

Dear Santa,

I loved you when I was little. I loved looking out the car window coming home from the candle-light Christmas Eve service, my parents in the front seat tuning in Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” and me scanning the darkness with my little sister in the back looking for any sign of you. I loved crawling into bed and thinking about what presents I may have under the tree the next morning. I loved the secret tradition my sister and I started with telling each other one present we got the other. On Christmas Eve, we always got to sleep in the same room. (I still really miss not doing that actually, but I don’t think our husbands would go for it.)

I still love you now as an adult. I love the expectation of joy and suspense and curiosity my child and others exude this time of year. It hypes me up even more than I already am which is hardly believable, because I really, REALLY love Christmas.

I know that you don’t intend to overshadow Jesus and I don’t think you do in our household. We LOVE telling the story of the birth of Jesus, singing songs about his birth, and minimizing your role by focusing on the human manifestations of Jesus: the giving to the needy, the celebration of his birth with our church family, the gathering of loved ones. I don’t remember how I even found out that you weren’t real, but I know that by the time I did, I realized that it was something I’d been slowly unfolding in my brain for a while and it wasn’t really the shock I think most parents fear. I remain grateful for the memories my parents handed me by pretending. (I did, however, draw the line at your co-worker the Easter Bunny. He’s completely ridiculous and he skips over our house.)

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that we’ll still put out milk and cookies for you this year. I know you understand why some families don’t and I don’t think Jesus is angry that we do. I really, really love my Jesus and all that his birth in that manger means to my broken, messy self. Now, one could justifiably argue that the whole commercially driven, holiday gift giving culture  has gotten way out of hand, but I don’t think it’s fair to blame you for that. We’re a pretty imperfect society, you know, and while I look to Jesus to be my savior, I am grateful to you for providing another way for us to look on the bright side of things. Merry CHRISTmas, Santa.

Love,

Sara

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**Sidenote: If you,like us, are Jesus loving parents who also do Santa up, I’d highly recommend the book Santa’s Favorite Story, by Hisako Aoki.