On Thanksgiving and Fear

Instead of fear, let us show generosity. Learning-Grace.com

I’m sitting here at my in-law’s table where we will celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow afternoon with family piled all around. I am grateful for so much: my family near and far, my community, my church, my kids. My cup overflows.

But, at the same time I cannot shake these pictures of Syrian refugee children and where they will sleep tonight. I cannot stop the news of activists being shot in Minneapolis, of the racial divide that continues to grip our country. Of the outright xenophobia being expressed by my neighbors. I am thankful and I am deeply troubled at what I see around me.

I have some other more lighthearted blogs in the pipeline, but the current state of our world: the fear, the hate, the misdirected anger, the dividing lines happening in our nation—the world, really—has my mind on more serious matters.

Our world didn’t get this way overnight, but the fact is those attacks in Paris and the ones since have shed light on exactly how polarized we are over matters of terrorism, hospitality, fear, and blame.

I find myself wringing my hands in the face of it all. The problems feel too big and too scary and I just don’t know where to start. And then I think of the saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

I can’t solve it all, neither can you. The issues we’re facing really are too big. But we can start with our neighbor and loving that person—showing kindness and generosity to him or her. And then we can start by expanding our definition of neighbor; maybe they’re not just the people on our street, but down the block or in our cities, country, world and then extend it to our neighbor’s neighbors. Instead of fear, let us show generosity. Let us think creatively about that generosity, like the California mom who is getting baby carriers into the hands of Syrian refugees in Greece.

We are all human, after all. The people who are in the midst of all this suffering really do suffer as much as you or I would. They are not made of tougher stock nor are they just “used” to it. They want their children to have a warm place to sleep. Their children are no less cold or afraid than our children would be. I look at my kids cozy in their beds, curled up with their stuffed animals and I cannot imagine them sleeping, cold and exposed on the forest floor. But Syrian kids and kids in many other places in this world (including the United States) do so every night. I just don’t understand shutting the door on them. And where in our Christian community is our faith? Do we not believe in the same God who commands:

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19 (NRSV)

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34 (NRSV)

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:43-44 (NRSV)

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I have no words.

I have no words. by Michelle Okabayashi www. learning-grace.com

I have no words; I have too many words. And so I have said nothing.
Parisians. Lebanese. Kenyans. Iraqis. Syrians.
All crafted by the same God.
They bleed the same blood. They weep the same tears.

While others draw lines in the sand.

Hate. Love. Fear. Intermingled, confused.
The enemy and the victim look the same—to some.

Whom do you embrace?
Whom do you shun?
Who is worth the risk?

I am grieved.
I am moved.
Plunged deep beyond an anchor’s reach.

The hate scares me most: irrational and dangerous.
A torch waving too close to the tinder.

When fear overcomes love.
When “Christians” cower and spew hate.
Is this how we were created to be? Is this our witness?

Oh God, let it be not so.
Let your truth rise above.
Let it drown out the cacophony of hate.

Let your love surround. Heal. Forgive.
Shore up those whose lives have been burst.

Send your ambassadors, the ones with your word engraved on their hearts.
Rise up the fearless ones who know your perfect love is the necessary balm.

 

 

 

© 2015 Michelle Okabayashi. All rights reserved.

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Inside Out

Inside Out

Sometimes when we’re walking, Ken and the kids run ahead and I just stop and watch the three of them, my heart beating wildly. They are pieces of me, my heart, out there in the open.

I feel inside out.

What was once on the inside, protected within me is now out, running free down the sidewalk where God knows what could happen. I didn’t know having a family could do this to me. I didn’t know it was possible to love so much that I actually do feel as if I could burst.

J and S run,  laughing and playing their sibling games. They fall down and bounce right back up. They don’t know I’m constantly scanning the driveways, watching for things that may cause them to trip, or broken glass on the sidewalk. That every time they fall I catch my breath for a second while I figure out if it’s major or minor. They just are filled with joie de vivre. I’m not all worry and woe. They make me run, laugh, and love in ways I never considered. They bring out my best parts. (And sometimes the worst ones, too—but we’re not talking about that, today.)

And this is where I have to pause and remember that we are grounded and we are raising our kids to be the same. We have roots that will tether us when hardship comes. Oh God, I hope they will.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NRSV)

This passage has been my tether in many a storm. We do have a future with a hope. And I love to see it bounding down the street.

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What I want to tell my kids about #Baltimore

What I want to tell my kids about Baltimore

My kids are too young to understand and ask questions about what’s happened in Baltimore, but know the day will come and it will be here sooner than I think.

Right now, my sphere of influence is small, but my job is big. I have these two little people who will one day be adults in the world. How can I teach them so they will be ready for it? I want them to be a part of the solution that stops this spinning wheel of oppression and violence, instead of mindlessly pushing it down the road as it has been for far too long.

I know that as biracial kids, they are going to experience the world very differently than me. These are some things I plan to tell them about injustice when the time comes, because institutional racism still prevails and it will continue for as long as sin is in the world. Sons and daughters, mothers and fathers will be misjudged, mishandled and killed for the wrong reasons. Baltimore is not the first city to burn, and unfortunately, it will not be the last. I know this will not be one conversation, but a lifetime of them.

I’m going to tell them that this is sin being played out on the world stage. We are not listening to God; we are not living as God created us to live. We have forgotten that we are all made in God’s image. We are all worthy of love and respect and dignity. The person next to you needs it as much as you do (and possibly more).

People forget that there’s enough to go around and so they instead look to put someone else down to lift themselves up. People are afraid of being less-than. They forget that we are all more-than because we are redeemed. We are God’s and we are called to a high standard.

I’m going to tell my children that when people are oppressed for a long period of time, they can be like popcorn. It just takes some heat and they explode. We don’t know what’s been going on inside that kernel, for we can’t fully know another’s experience. But it has been packed too tight for too long and in the right conditions it can’t stay that way anymore.

There are people who have been bullied because their parents were bullied and their parent’s parents were bullied. They’ve been bullied so long and so badly that they have been pushed to the margins. They can’t find jobs to feed their families. They don’t have good homes to live in and their kids don’t have nice schools. But they see people every day who have the things they have been denied. It makes them angry and sad, rightfully so.

Some people have just been bullied so long and pushed aside, that bulling them seems like the right thing to do. It’s not. Just because something has been one way for a long time does not make it right.

Sometimes the only way we think we can be heard is to yell and throw a tantrum. Sometimes it takes a lot to get the attention you want or need. There are right ways and wrong ways to get attention. We can get so frustrated that we forget about right and wrong, because we just want to be heard.

People may look and speak differently, they live in different neighborhoods or types of homes, but they are really just like you and me. They love their children. They want to provide for their families. They want to work and be productive, but it is very hard because other people keep thinking the worst of them.

That’s not how God sees them. We need to listen to God. We need to try our hardest to love like God. God made all of us: black, white, brown. And God wants the best for us. The best way for us to do this is to treat everyone with love and look out for those who are not treated as well as others. Just as we need to go out of our way to speak up for a friend who is getting bullied on the playground and show extra kindness to him or her, we need to do the same for our neighbors who may be experiencing the same thing in life.

I want to tell them that police officers are like us, too. They have a lot of power because they enforce the rules, keep our community orderly and safe, and they carry guns that should be used very rarely (if at all). There are all kinds of people who are police officers. Most are good people. They have been given an important job to protect us and keep our communities orderly and safe. They are the ones who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to serve the communities where they work. However, like with any group of people there are a few who do not do their job well or abuse their power to bully other people. They need to be held accountable for their actions, like everyone else.

I know these notes only scratch the surface. Even as I write, I struggle with the right words that give respect and love where they are due and where they have been sorely lacking for far too long. We leave a legacy to our kids—for better and for worse—let’s teach them so they don’t repeat our mistakes and so they can leave a better legacy for the generation that follows.

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Good Enough

O God I am so tired of not being good enough.

Not smart enough, skinny enough, rich enough, patient enough

Not spiritual enough.

O Lord, it’s so hard to be so close, yet so far from the goal.
to not make the grade, to miss the mark
be the last one picked for the team

But that’s where your spirit comes in
and fills the space between
not enough
 and
more than enough

Because I am not good enough
not enough for your love
for your perfect, eternal embrace
Yet, you hold me anyway.
With a love that cannot be erased
by my shortcomings, my falls,
the clumsy way I get around this life

You weep when I weep, rejoice when I rejoice
Calling me daughter
Naming me friend
Claiming me as your own.

For in my weakness you are strong.

And that turns, not enough
into abundance

In this cosmic equation
Your mathematics of grace
my shortcomings
my faults

Are the joints that make me move
Lubricated by the oil of your love
Held by the ligaments of grace
Powered by the fuel of your fire

You equip me to run this race.

(c) 2015 Michelle Okabayashi, all rights reserved.