Suffering: Expectation or Exception?

Last week I was driving downtown with a friend sharing some hard things I’ve experienced recently. She listened intently as I revealed bits and pieces of my pain and disappointment. After a while she gently and matter-of-factly shared about the people and kids she interacts with on a daily basis. Most of them do not come from privileged places. As a school teacher in South LA, my friend sees her fair share of suffering and disappointment.

As we chatted a while longer, the question of privilege entered the conversation. Was my privilege getting in the way of my suffering? The question seemed to linger in my head for the remainder of the evening. How much of my faith was built on false expectation? Expectation that God will give me a good life, help me reach my goals, make it to the next milestone. I do believe that God is good, but I don’t believe that suffering is the absence of good.

I sat in the car humbled and grieved listening to my friend outline her own experiences working with and being a person of color. For others from different racial and economic backgrounds than me, suffering may actually be the expectation. At first this didn’t sound right to me - why would God want His people to expect bad things?! But the more I thought about this, the more Biblical it started to sound.

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:12-13

Perhaps I missed something in my theology of suffering. And perhaps my privilege (and more specifically, my entitlement) created a series of truths that suffering was an exception, something I didn’t have to experience, something I could work hard to overcome or avoid. I suppose I unconsciously believed that I could outperform and out-pray any bad thing in my life based on the opportunities and access I was given. And I’m not very proud of that.

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In the last year, I’ve mourned the loss of someone very dear to me too many times to count, grieved the health of another, been fired, faced unemployment for three months, mourned my singleness while celebrating others’ partnership, and tried to start over in a new state. In short, let’s just say it’s been a hell of a year.

After a while, I realized my performance and striving prayer wasn’t getting me anywhere different. And I panicked. I felt stuck, helpless, fearful, and really, really alone. But you know what? God met me there. He chose to meet me in my own entitlement and privileged expectations. He chose to meet me in my grief, disappointment, pain, and overwhelming loss.

I cannot fix my circumstances or other people. Nor can I pray or perform away bad things. All I can do is take ownership of myself and believe somehow there’s Good in all this, too.

Come to the Table Event Recap

I’ve made some really beautiful friendships across the table. There’s something about coming together in a common space, enjoying a meal together, and bonding through our place of need. I love what Shauna Niequist says about the table:

We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished... The table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel.
— Shauna Niequist

This is why I want to bring tender and hard conversations to the table. It’s a place where our common humanity is shared, and through my work as a trainer and facilitator, one of my primary goals is to help you get in touch with your humanity (and the humanity of others).

Below are some photos from my last dinner event in Los Angeles. I plan content and a general structure for each night, but I try not to come with an agenda, knowing some of the most powerful conversations happen organically, through the context of relationships formed. Stay tuned for more events and resources coming soon.

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 All photos by Lindie Beth Photography.

All photos by Lindie Beth Photography.

Summer 2018 Reading List

Today marks the last day of my Spring quarter, meaning I've completed my first year of graduate school! It's hard to believe I'm about a third of the way through my program; it feels like just yesterday I started my first class. 

Now that my last paper has been submitted, I'm officially in summer mode. I'm anticipating space and time to enjoy my first summer in L.A. and though I'll be working full time, I can put the school work to the side for a few months. One of my goals is to read all the books I've wanted to read but didn't have time for! So many of you have asked about books I'd recommend, especially related to race and culture. Here's a list to get you started!

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1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I read this in a week or two - super easy read. It's a novel that follows the life of an African American girl who must reconcile her culture and neighborhood with her private school life, which predominantly consists of middle class white people. There is language and some adult material, though it helped me understand the perspective of someone coming into my world. 

2. Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People

I just started this one! One of my classmates recommended this book. I love reading anything I can find on the subject of unconscious bias, and this one is easy to read, and less heady than some of the other materials I've studied. Don't read this if you don't want to be convicted by your own biases!

3. A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America

This was my favorite book I read all quarter. It made me cry and get angry at some points, but it's incredibly valuable to look at our nation's history from a minority perspective. I learned things in this book I NEVER heard before. It reads a bit like a history book, but the author also published a version of the book for youth - I hear it's easier to read. 

4. So You Want to Talk About Race?

I have not read this book yet, though I can't wait to dive in. A friend of mine recommended this and I've read this it's a great bridge between people of color and white Americans looking to understand the complexities of race. The author seems pretty straight-forward and takes on some heavy issues like police brutality, micro-aggressions, Black Lives Matter, and white privilege. 

5. The Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and Mother's Love

This has been on my list for quite a while! This book is actually about mental illness, another part taboo topic in our culture. There are elements of both race and culture present, and the main character is actually from my home town. I can't wait to share what I think about this one!

6. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Some of my old co-workers turned me on to this book. It was named the best book of the year by Amazon and the Wall Street Journal. The book is about the Osage Indians in Oklahoma and one of the greatest and most under-reported tragedies in our nation's history. I'm looking forward to pick this up this summer. 

7. Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race

I haven't read this book yet, either, though I came across it on Amazon. I'm a sucker for a good memoir, and the reviews of this book said it was vulnerable, funny, and "cringe-worthy." I imagine I have similar experiences as the author, who grew up as a white American and started to realize the impact of race in our country in her young adult years. 

8. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race

Listed as another bestseller, this book has been recommended by several people. The author is a psychologist and talks about the importance of addressing racial identity in our culture. 

9. The Leavers

This is a novel about an undocumented Chinese immigrant and her son's journey to finding belonging in a culture that is not his own. I haven't read it yet, though a good friend recommended it! It's a story of loss, sacrifice, and adoption. I'm sure I'll cry my way through it!

10. Intercultural Ministry: Hope for a Changing World

I read this book in my U.S. Ethnicities class and found it so practical and helpful. If you work in any sort of intercultural setting, in the church or outside, this is a great resource. It's also ready to read as many authors contributed to it and tell their own stories in each chapter. 

Build Bridges Not Walls Table Event

Last weekend I had the honor of co-hosting a dinner event for 16 women in Los Angeles, California. I knew I wanted to bring the Build Bridges Not Walls curriculum into small group settings, and when Katie from At the Lane suggested hosting an event together, I knew this was an opportunity I had been looking for! 

Katie tackled the registration and set-up (which was a dream by the way), and I facilitated the conversation using my work guide curriculum. We started with conversation cards provided by Lumitory, a brand that creates products to facilitate hospitality in your home. The cards were the perfect way to begin the evening and get the conversation started. 

As we ate dinner around the table together I couldn't help but notice the table as an equalizer. Each woman, no matter what ethnicity or background, was sharing together, providing our bodies nourishment and sustenance. It was a beautiful picture of community to me. 

The night continued with prompts and thoughtful discussion questions centered around our interactions with the construct of race. Women shared bravely about their experiences and asked vulnerable questions about how to relate to both women of color and privilege. It was clear to me by the end of the night that spaces like this need to be created and protected.

I am by no means an expert on this topic, neither do I always have the right words to say. In fact, I've pretty afraid of being wrong. But I do know that when someone is willing to step out first, risk, and ask questions, it paves a way for others to feel safe, known, and seen. 

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An Invitation to Deconstruction

What comes to mind when you hear the word "deconstruction?" Does it sound intimidating, challenging, complicated, insightful, fun? It's likely a mixture of all of the above. Yet this deconstruction has been one of my very favorite parts of being in graduate school thus far. 

Last Fall I sat down with another student in my program who was about to graduate. I asked her what advice she'd give to someone just starting out, and she said with a slight smirk on her face, to "expect deconstruction." I thought it was a funny thing to say, but just a few weeks later, I experienced this firsthand. 

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Deconstruction is fancy term to explain what happens when you begin questioning everything - from values to beliefs, worldview, bias, and actions. It's a bit unnerving at first, but the end goal is ownership and a lifestyle of action and reflection. In short, deconstruction helps us understand the "why" behind what we do, believe, say, and think. 

How many of you would say you're able to articulate why you do certain things, believe certain things, or say what you say? For most of us it's second-nature; however, when we take the time to examine and reflect on our actions, we open ourselves up to growing and changing. It takes courage to deconstruct and it is my goal to invite you into my deconstruction process so that it becomes a bit easier (or more accessible) for those of you reading. 

I'm in a class right now about ethnicity in the United States and we are in the process of deconstructing cultural values and worldviews. I am realizing how much my Middle-American upbringing has influenced me. It's quite amazing (and humbling). 

Like it or not, each of us is a product of our culture. We grow up being nurtured in a specific cultural context and learn to adopt the worldview of that culture. According to one of my professors at Fuller, "a worldview is a complex multifaceted fabric of beliefs, often submerged, concerning the world - what it is, how its parts interact and the places of humans." In short, worldview is how we see the world. 

There's no right or wrong kind of worldview, contrary to our Western "black and whiteness." It simply exists. I prefer things to be clear and explainable, though that's not really realistic or possible. I hope to continue examining specific cultural values, like time, progress, individualism, and invisible realities. My hope is to move toward other cultures, continue deconstructing my American worldview, and learning to set aside my differences to embrace others. 

Have you ever thought about why you believe what you believe and see what you see?

Consider this your invitation to start exploring the "why" behind what you do and why you do it. Ask friends of different backgrounds what they see and do and compare it to your own understanding. There will likely be differences, but it's important to note these differences are not black and white or right and wrong. Their just different. Self-awareness of our worldview can be a powerful tool in learning to build bridges in community!