Episode 4: Hoodies and Fruit Salad

Finally get caught up on editing episodes! This week Ashley and Rob – and the third wheel, as she affectionately calls herself – discuss appearance and race in stores, in ministry, and in life. Also, Rob is given more grief about not drinking smoothies.

Two Normal-ish People Talk About Race – Episode 4: Hoodies and Fruit Salad

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Episode 2: We Got Deep Fast

This week Ashley and Rob invited Rasheena to join them in their conversation, and it got deep quick. We talked about being black in the workplace, fear-based policing, and how the United States doesn’t even treat black bodies as fully human and worthy of saving.

BUT, on the lighter side, at the end we did get a smoothie recipe from Ashley involving broccoli…

Two Normal-ish People Talk About Race – Episode 2: We Got Deep Fast

Check us out every week on Facebook (and YouTube eventually) at 1:00 PM Eastern/12:00 PM Central!

Episode 1: Detox Weeks and the Realities of Race

Ashley and Rob(ert) talk about food stereotypes – including the white food stereotypes Ashley follows – and address some questions from people at the beginning of their antiracism journeys (including Rob’s mom).

Two Normal-ish People Talk About Race – Episode 1: Detox Weeks and the Realities of Race

Check us out every week on Facebook (and YouTube eventually) at 1:00 PM Eastern/12:00 PM Central!

Saying, “I’m Colorblind!” is Racist

(Disclaimer: Because I have to say it, please be smart and know I did not write this post about the actual inability to discern colors.  I also read an article recently about an Autistic person who cannot discern race; not about that, either. You know what this is about.)

Let me give you a quick thought experiment, an online quiz if you will.  What race are the children in this picture:

Answer key to the world’s easiest online quiz: Black, White.

You see race.  You see the level of melanin in people’s skin.  You know why this picture would be posted with the caption “I don’t see race!” like some kind of hyper-enlightened, hyper-woke person who lives somewhere above everyone else.

Why not choose a picture of children of the same race?  Right, because you do, in fact, see race, and everyone else does, too.  In White schools all over the country, though, they teach children to say things like “colorblind” and “I don’t see race.”  The education system teaches us to ignore differences and create a homogenous society.

Which does not work.  Before we get into race, let me guide you to thinking this issue with a more generic issue: bullying.

We all have a child in our life who gets bullied – or a friend who got bullied as a child.  Go find that person, ask them what advice their teachers gave them to fight bullying, and if it worked.

No really, if you did not experience profound bullying as a child, literally go find someone who did – or who current does – and ask them what their teachers told them to do about bullying and if that thing did anything to lessen their experience of bullying.

Did you go ask?  If you did, good; if not, well, I will answer for you, and my answer will match almost anyone else’s answer.

“Ignore the bully.”  “No, it did not help.”

(Honestly, if you did not ask, go ask now.  The internet will wait for you to get back.)

Unless you acknowledge the problem and take steps to actually fix the problem – education, rules, enforcement, systemic changes – it will not go away.  Without changing who I was inherently and situationally – poor, unathletic, intellectually gifted, weird – bullying would not stop without someone intervening and addressing the problems that allowed it to happen.

And it happened because of what and who I was, not indiscriminately.  Only acknowledging reality and changing the system would fix it.

When you say things like, “I am colorblind” and, “I don’t see race,” you only deny the real lived experience of people of color and pretend you have universal lived experience without any connection the privilege of your race.

You deny history.  You deny the destruction of Black Wall Street.  You deny segregation.  You deny chattel slavery of Africans in America.  You deny that the very country whose flag you worship got built by enslaved people taken from their homeland and sold as property – and denied their humanity.  You deny everything that happened to lead us to this point.

You deny statistics.  I know I grabbed a strange source, but I have mostly – if not universally – white readers and the super-white Ben and Jerry’s website has a surprisingly comprehensive set of statistics of racial disparity in the United States.

You deny the lived experience of the beloved Black people in your life.

When you deny these things, you empower those who enforce a system of racism and White supremacy.  When you deny these things, you give the system a free pass to keep oppressing people of color.  When you deny these things, you allow racism to continue to exist.

Notice I said racism and not prejudice.  I did not use the word prejudice for a reason.  Humans will have prejudices against people forever.  I have prejudices against “woke” pastors, lead pastors, Princeton graduates, and generally anyone in leadership at a presbytery, synod, or denominational level.

Racism requires something prejudice does not: power.  Racism in America goes one direction because of power and racial history.  This country built itself upon the ideal that white skin = human and dark skin = animal, or less than animal.  At its highest ranks, this country still functions on that belief and uses race and prejudice to continue to control.

When you say, “I am colorblind!” you enable the system of oppression to continue, but when you finally acknowledge that no, you are not colorblind because that is impossible, and that you benefit in a lot of ways – safety from the authorities and provided by the authorities being pretty freaking major – systemic racism, you can start helping.  When you acknowledge race, acknowledge racism, acknowledge American White Supremacy, and say, “This is not right and I refused to willingly participate in it any longer,” then you threaten the powers that continue to oppress, and you weaken their ability to oppress.

If you want to see this end, if you want to see rioting end and police brutality end, if you want your middle class, White experience of America to be given to all people, then you have to confront reality.  It really hurts initially, keeps hurting, and feels really uncomfortable in the best moments – and, when you make some headway in your own journey, it starts to feel hopeless when you watch the world’s journey (or lack thereof) – but only acknowledging and refusing to allow this system to continue will help fix and heal things.  You can fight this in your voting, in your speaking out, and, for those in positions of power and authority, in your hiring practices, justice practices, and education practices.

You are not colorblind.  Saying you are colorblind empowers the system of racism.  You do not get to absolve yourself from the difficult conversations and the reality of your own prejudices by saying this; you convict yourself and show how little you care about the reality of racism and American White Supremacy.

Christians, our savior was murdered by religious authorities, given the permission to murder him by the (likely) White Roman authorities.  Do you follow a poor, first century Palestinian Jew who died a horrific and painful death on a Roman cross, or White Renaissance Jesus who looks really buff and powerful nailed to a pristine wooden cross?

If you view racism like you view bullying, do you stop bullying by saying bullies do not exist and you do not see any difference between the bullies and the bullied?  No.  Stop pretending that, by saying you see no difference between the oppressors and the oppressed – the perpetrators of racism and the victims of racism – you magically fixed all the racism in the world.

I see race, and I want to see how our country can help every race shine brightly without fear.

Peace,
– Robby

Remembering Aunt Darla

My Aunt Darla was one of God’s special beloved.  The medical community has words to describe her – nonverbal, neuro-atypical, differently-abled, and more hurtful words – but to us – to me – she was just a loved and special part of our family.  Many people in my family have a special connection to beloved children of God like Darla, and I never ceased to be amazed at the love and compassion that she was shown by people I would not necessarily describe as loving and compassionate otherwise.

That ability to connect with her did not come easily to me, or maybe not even at all.  I always felt that love for her, but that connection was not my gift (which saddens more than a little today).

But in her I saw a special gift I pray for myself: an ultimate vulnerability, a complete lack of mask or deception, fully bringing everything about herself to every moment.  I pray and dream of the moment where I can bring half of my true self to anything; she just naturally did it.

She was a complete and whole beloved child of God, no need for correction nor fixing.  I do not say that she had an easy life – or a pain-free life – but she was beloved exactly as she was.  I could not always see that, but I know it to be true.

Last night my Aunt Darla passed away from COVID-19.  She spent a week on a ventilator but was, ultimately, too weak to recover.  Thankfully my grandparents were able to spend the last moments with her, but most of that time they had to stay away.  I don’t know if she knew what was going on before they sedated her, but I know it had to be very confusing to be without anyone she knew in those last moments awake.

For the past week or so, a verse from Matthew has not been far from my mind: “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’” (Matthew 25:40 CEB)

I know Darla was well cared for her entire life – my grandparents, the staff at the facility she lived, the doctors and nurses who cared for her at the end.  Those people are light in this world, a reflection of perfect love.

On Friday my family will be wearing red – her favorite color – and you are welcome to join us, but I more hope and pray that you can find your way to do for the least and the lowest.  Protect the most vulnerable, support the most downtrodden, lift the most beaten, sacrifice your own desires for the needs of those whose needs aren’t fulfilled.

“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’” (Matthew 25:40 CEB)

You will be dearly missed, Aunt Darla.  I pray I can someday reflect as much of Christ’s love as you did.

– Robby

“Where are you, God?”: A lament

I wake up almost every morning and look at my phone. My social media reads a litany of pain and suffering. The news reads a litany of ever-evolving chaos and glaringly inadequate response. Fear, anger, sickness, hopelessness; we have almost nothing else to share in this time, they have nothing else to report at this time.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Two white men chased down and hunted a black man like they would a wild animal. The wheels of justice has just now – after months – started to turn after the African American community had to risk their lives protesting to make it start. No one has charged them yet. The Georgia Bureau of Investigations basically said the men had the legal right to perform a “citizen’s arrest” on him and, when he rightly resisted, murder him.

And I have no words.

My savior, my teachers, my parishioners, my God require that I speak out and condemn racism. My dear friend lives in fear of when her beautiful young son can make someone “fear for their life” by simply existing. My heart aches in remembrance of a time when I would have defended these men instead of seeing the blatant racism at work. My soul demands justice, yet justice seems to retreat as racism takes a stronger hold on our nation.

And I have no words.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

The past few days have fill themselves with conspiracies. People I love – and people who serve congregations as pastor – have spread misinformation about COVID-19, dangerous misinformation that threatened to harm the people they served. People want to resume normal life – a life that will no loner exist when this ceases – and that desire has blinded them to truth.

Some of our governments have chosen the economy over the least and the lowest. They demand the poorest and most vulnerable risk their lives to survive. They have suggested churches serve as the “test group” for reopening everything. They have the ability and resources to create safety nets for those most at risk and instead create safety nets for the richest and least at risk.

I have words, I have spoken words, and they have fallen deaf on the ears of those who can make decisions.

Our governments have all but said these decisions will unnecessarily kill people, but the economy needs the sacrifice. Our market economy – not the makers, not the producers, not the laborers, but the market that declares values on nothing more than speculation – demands a sacrifice, and the weakest and lowest will serve as that sacrifice.

We can protect human survival of the least and the lowest, yet we protect the economy.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Exhaustion has taken me. Though so many other things – much more important things – weigh heavy on my shoulders, the hours and energy I must exert to keep a church going have drained me. When I feel guilty over only working 50 hours this week – and that exhausting me – I know burnout has come.

And I have no solution. I have no alternatives aside from scrapping our entire worship service and creating something less – which also will take energy and creativity I do not think I have.

God instructed the Israelites to plant gardens in their exile, but I do not even know what seeds and vegetables look like in this exile from what I know. I cannot till ground I do not see, I cannot sow seeds I do not have, and I cannot harvest something I would not even recognize.

But I will stay in this exile for as long as the safety of the people I serve requires. I just do not know how I will survive it.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

I do not hear your voice, God. I do not see your hand. I do not know how to keep sharing your Word in this time. I do not know how to speak as a prophet in this time. I do not hear your calling me in the night, I do not hear you calling me to your temple, I do not hear your calling me at all.

I thought I had experienced a “Dark Night of the Soul” previously, but I realized now I had heard God calling me. God did not answer my question of “Why?”, but God did keep calling me to continue on, preserver, and fight for the privilege of sharing God’s Word and Christ’s sacraments.

Now I do not hear God. I believe God does not call people to simply survive and for churches to simply survive, but I only hear that call. God has stopped making God’s presence known to me.

I need guidance now more than ever, yet God’s voice has left me.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Other voices have not. When I post this, someone will try to fix it. Someone will admonish me for not feeling God. Someone will say, “It will all get better.”  Someone will lovingly ask me how I am in a week, expecting things to get better and unprepared to hear that nothing gets better right now, just varying degrees of bad.

I need to lament, and my lament will not end. My pain has not lessened, my frustration has not lessened, my exhaustion has not lessened. I have no end in sight; I find myself exiled from all the things I know and all the self-care practices I have used. Even if I could take a vacation right now – which I cannot – I would spend that vacation in my house in which my living rooms serves as my office and my pulpit.

Someone will have the answer to my lament because they cannot bear to sit with my lament.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

I lament, and yet, like the psalmist, I continue to ask God for relief.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Please, come to me and speak to me again.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Opening Too Early

I will start this by saying that, if I have unfounded fears, I will very publicly eat my words.  I, like everyone else, pray that this all declines and life can resume.  I want to, in four weeks, say, “I was wrong, and my fears were unfounded.”

But my observations of history, the current trends, and the words of experts make me thing that we have not found the end of this and a second wave will happen as we open back up.

I first must say that I do not have an argument against everything people have said about the downsides of closing.  Yes, closing has exacerbated socio-economic problem.  Yes, closing has exacerbated mental health issues.  Yes, limiting elective surgeries – and declaring some necessary surgeries elective – has exacerbated and risked lives.

No one can – or will – argue the truth of these issues.  They are real.  We may wildly disagree on how to mitigate these realities, but we all know they are real and serious.

When someone says that we should not reopen too soon, they do not argue we should ignore these realities or sacrifice those suffering from these realities for the good of other people.

Our concern lies with the second wave because the second wave will also exacerbate these things, likely exacerbating them longer than if we had just stayed closed long enough.  Opening too early will not have a lasting positive effect.  It will temporarily relieve it, but the ensuing wave and closing will re-exacerbate everything, and for longer because the second wave is always worse than the first and will force a longer closing.

I must address something else.  I have seen zero debate about this.  I have seen virtue signaling, accusations of “vileness” and “hatred,” name calling, and blinding anger.  And, as a confession, I have been as guilty as anyone.

Accusing each other of disregarding the needs of the least and the lowest without actually naming their ways and simply angrily repeating your concerns – or worse, parroting the talking points provided to you by people who care not at all about the least and the lowest but benefit greatly by those least and lowest returning to work – will not help and will only sow divisions in this time of isolation.  And frankly, it does not move us to a better understanding of what we should do.

I will not say much publicly on the issue as I have been doing, but I will covenant with everyone that when I do, I will address what I see, why I disagree with it, and do so without accusations and name calling.  I ask that you do the same.

We can get through this, we can find a path that addresses the pandemic and the societal problems exacerbated by it, and we can do so without hatred, but we must actively and intentionally do so – and maybe sacrifice our own desires and needs in the process.

Peace,
– Robby

Let Me Lament

If you read this and you hear yourself echoed, know I feel your love and I understand why you try to make things feel better.  I get it, I truly do.

But please, let me lament.  Let me be sad and angry at things.  Let me not be okay with the fact that things go wrong.  Let me want to do better and struggle with the reality that I cannot.  Let me feel frustration when things outside of my control derail my effort.

Let me be not okay.

I appreciate you wanting me to have a healthier relationship with my own inherent inadequacy.  I appreciate the love you show me when I get really frustrated and want to quit.  I appreciate you wanting me to see the good in my work.  I appreciate you wanting me to know God loves me and my offerings.

I really do appreciate it.

But I need to mourn and lament.  Every week something new goes wrong.  Every week something inside my control and something outside my control fails.  Every week I have to fix something in service that threatens to derail the service.

Every week something negates – at least in part – my hours of work and labor.

I do not need public reminders of my status of beloved amidst of my lament.  I do not need suggestions on how to do my ministry differently amidst my lament.  I do not need to hear how you have an easier method and explain why I made the conscious decision to not do things that way.  I do not need to feel like I need to apologize for my frustration amidst my lament.

I need to lament and mourn.  Please, just let me be not okay with this and let me be frustration when things that should work do not.

Peace.
– Robby

I Am Weary

I have grown so weary.

It was supposed to get easier after Easter.  For some pastors it did.  My problems seem to not stop.

When do I get to rest?  When do I get to breathe?  Why am I so worn when I am not anything but a worship leader?

My therapist told me to not minimize my own struggles, but how do you not?  All I do is put together a worship service.  I do not go to hospitals and care for patients, I do not risk my life to stock groceries and check customers out for garbage pay, I work from home – a quite comfortable home – and have no schedule.

Why am I so weary?

Why do I put in so much effort?  Do I actually do something more than people who put in less?  Do my offerings match the effort I put into them?

Why do I worry so much about it?  Why can I not just be okay with enough?  Why can I not see my offering as enough?

If I actually put this into the public, someone will tell me I am enough and to not beat myself up.  Someone will try to make me feel better.  Someone will read it and wonder why I wrote this to complain.

Maintaining my pastoral identity – and my professional identity – makes me weary.  The amount of work I must put into to maintain my identity as a pastor makes me weary.  The energy I must give to be myself in this time makes me weary.

Nothing just works.  Zoom meetings randomly decide to not let me in.  Facebook crashes.  I forget to change a setting on my router and lose the service halfway through on Easter – a service I put many hours and much stress into.  On-the-fly corrections do not really work in this space.  Flexibility has gone from ministry because I cannot just change someone last minute.  Everything must be planned and executed, and then something not working will destroy all that work and planning.

I just want to stop.  I just want to be done.  I just want my home to no longer be my chancel and my office.  I just want to preach again in my physical pulpit.

I want to be seen.  I want people to understand the sheer volume of work I do – work I never excelled at and clearly should not do professionally.  I want people to see that I am making an offering that will be insufficient by the world’s standards but is so much more than I could be doing.  I want people to see how much I struggle to balance my need for a sustainable ministry and my call to provide a full worship service – and not chastise and scold me for it.

And I want to be enough.  But I am not.  God makes me enough, somehow, but I am not, and my offerings are inadequate.  I want people to just hear that, not try to fix it, not try to explain it away, but just hear my struggles and empathize with them.

I am weary, and I do not know how to not be weary.