Five Books/Films to Understand Racism

I think of past movements that brought change in our nation and world. The abolitionist movement, the suffragette movement, the civil rights protest of the 1960s all had naysayers, those who refused to see the importance of the times they lived in. I don’t want this moment to past by without me changing in the process.

As I look at what is happening across the nation, I have been trying to listen and learn. I want to learn and make real changes in my thoughts and actions towards the black experience. There is something profound happening in our country.

Here’s five books and films that I can personally recommend if you want to join me in learning about racism.

  1. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It’s a book and a movie. It’s also the true story of a black man on death row in Alabama. I haven’t finished the book, but I watched the movie. It moved me to tears. The movie is available free for streaming through the month of June on most streaming services.
  2. undefinedWhite Fragility: Why it’s So hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin J. DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson. I haven’t finished reading this book, but I am engaging the text.
  3. undefinedA Lesson Before Dying by Earnest Gaines. It’s a fictional work about racism, imprisonment and justice in the South. This short volume is a modern classic.
  4. undefinedHarriet. A movie available through various streaming services including Amazon Prime. It is the story of Harriet Tubman, the famed heroine of the Underground Railroad. Sometimes we have to understand the past in order to understand the present.
  5. undefinedNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. Again, understanding the past roots of America’s struggle with race can help navigate today’s complexities.
  6. BONUS MOVIE: Get Out. Being white is spooky in this movie. It’s a thriller/horror movie with racial commentary thrown and mixed around. I loved this movie.

The Story of Gumbo and a bit more

The name of this blog is Gumbo Ya Ya. For years, I wrote under a similar name, the Honduras Gumbo. That changed when I left Honduras over 5 years ago.

In parts of Africa, the word, gombo, means okra. And in Angola, specifically, okra, was known as ngumbo. Is gumbo, then, an African dish? Well, yes and no. The slaves who came to Louisiana brought okra with them. They were known to eat a dish of okra and rice. But, we know that the French brought bouillabaisse with them to the New Orleans area. Then, there is the filé, which is dried and ground sassafras leaves, which is used to thicken gumbo. Filé came from the Native Americans who lived in this area.

Where do we get gumbo from exactly? Hard to tell. I would say all these cultures had a part in the dish. It’s a composite dish.

In the same way, we as a multi-ethnic nation. We live in a diverse culture. White, Black, Native American, Latino, Asian, and much more make this a culture that’s dynamic and ever-changing.

At this moment in our nation, I couldn’t write under the title gumbo, which is itself a fusion dish without mentioning our national diversity. I also must mention the ongoing protests in the nation and in some parts of the world, too. I believe these protests are a good sign that white people in particular are being awakened to the plight of our black brothers and sisters.

It is tempting to be cynical, to say that the protests are not going to change anything. It’s tempting to say that the media is capitalizing on the sensational of the moment. Or, we can acknowledge that racism exists, and that we, especially white Americans, can and must change.

What can I do besides post a social media post about race or write a few words on a blog read by a small audience? One thing I will do is be part of the conversation on race. Starting Tuesday evening, I am taking part in a book club that will discuss White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin J DiAngelo.

I refuse to be a cynic. I believe my small efforts can make a difference. If you are interested in being part of a book club with me, let me know. We can start another group using Zoom.

I can’t share a gumbo with you via Zoom, but I can and will invite you to the table of humanity where we all have a seat. We can make a difference. It doesn’t have to end with just a few more days of people in the streets.

Stormy Weather

A storm is brewing in the Gulf. Right now, Cristobal is meandering over land near the Yucatan. It won’t stay there forever. It is forecast to make its way toward the Louisiana coast on Sunday. It’s not likely to be a strong storm. At its worst, forecasters agree it could be a nominal hurricane.

Considering the fragility of our coastline, though, it may be just one more weapon that will be like a battering ram on our area. The boot in the picture above represents what used to be the coast of Louisiana. I couldn’t find a good image on the internet to show what it looks like today, but much of coast of southeastern Louisiana is gone. The land that I grew up on is increasingly being eroded and falling away. Open waters lap at our doorsteps, in some cases, quite literally, as people are forced to move to higher ground.

That’s one reason that I live where I live today. I didn’t see the sense of buying another house in New Orleans, after coming back here after nearly a decade in Honduras. New Orleans is surrounded more and more by open waters rather than protective wetlands, or near my hometown on the bayou where land is lost everyday. At least where I live now, a bit north and east of New Orleans, I don’t have to worry about small storms such as what is being projected for this weekend.

There are other storms. Some of the storms brewing are not tropical at all. There are political and racial storms that are raging now in our country. What do we do with the information we have about racial injustice and protests? Do we, as white Americans, just put up a social media comment in defense of justice and go along our way as if nothing has happened?

I’m guilty of doing that. I just posted a few things about injustice. I felt better. But what if I were really committed to understanding what’s happening in our country? I think I need to seek voices from the black community. I need to listen. There are battering rams of injustice and inequities hitting our nation right now. If not addressed, they will weaken our democracy.

Whenever we have storms in the Gulf, our motto is be prepared. We do what we can to protect our homes, and we ride out the storm as best we can. (Evacuation is still the best choice for large storms). I need a game plan, too, to prepare to understand my black brothers and sisters.

I plan to watch Just Mercy, a film about racial injustice in the penal system. You can rent Just Mercy for free in June through a variety of digital movie services in the US, including Apple TVFandangoNowGoogle PlayAmazon Prime VideoRedbox, the PlayStation Store, VuduMicrosoft, and YouTube. Join me in watching the movie.

I am also part of a book club that will be reading White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. I want this moment in history to count for something. I was only 6 years old in 1969 when the public schools in our school district were integrated. I was too young to have a voice, but I now see what a seminal moment that was for our town. I don’t want to be in denial this time, like my parents were in the 1960s.

In my morning devotions today, from Pray as You Go, the text was from Jesus’ words about the two greatest commandments. The first is to love God. The second is to love our neighbor. If we don’t grapple with social and racial inequities in our nation, I fear more storms are going to hit us. It’s time we met the storms with foresight and prudence.

In This Book

Yesterday, President Trump chose to walk from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church. In the process, lawful, peaceful protestors were gassed and hit with rubber bullets so that Trump could make the short walk to the church. There he held up a Bible upside down and had his photo taken. He didn’t pray, read a Bible verse or speak at all.

I can’t for the life of me understand why he did this. He gained nothing from lifting up a Bible for a prop in front of a church that he doesn’t attend. The whole event smacked of base hypocrisy. He used his power and authority in ways opposed to the Christian faith that I affirm.

I quote from Melissa Florer-Bixler, “In this book are the words of a pregnant, brown, teenage Jew living under military occupation, born into poverty, who said that one day the powerful would one day be cast down from their thrones and the rich sent away empty. This would be the work of God.”

Jesus’ way as detailed in this book, the Bible, was to lift up the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the hopeless. When Jesus gave his disciples a model prayer, what we call the Lord’s prayer, he said, “Let your kingdom come.” The kingdom of God, which is the opposite of this world’s systems’, can break into this current world system if we truly embody the words in this book, the Bible.

Lord, help me to discern correctly in this book what you want from me.

Conspiracy theories among Christians

This is important folks. Conspiracy theories are running rampant on social media.

BRIAN HAYNES

A close friend in our church texted me this question today amidst the whirlwind of conspiracy theories wildly blowing among believers on social media.

“What are your thoughts towards the uproar of believers posting conspiracy type things online (especially today)? I feel overwhelmed by the amount of fear and disunity.”

This is the worst of Christianity in America. Conspiracy theories are birthed in fear. This is all very convoluted at the grass roots level because people don’t trust leaders for good and bad reasons. Here are my thoughts in short form:

  1. The virus is real. We (Christ-followers) should do our best to be responsible citizens out of obedience to our God who teaches us to pray for and submit to our leaders as far as possible without disobeying God. Also, we live in communities with people we call our neighbors we are to love relentlessly. So we follow guidelines to…

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Hope

“Hope is (for me) not usually the religious-looking fingers of light slanting through the clouds, or the lurid sunrise. It’s more a sturdy garment, like an old chamois shirt: a reminder that I’ve been here before, in circumstances just as frightening, and I came through, and will again. All I have to do is stay grounded in the truth.”     Anne Lamott

I found this quote yesterday on Facebook. It was part of a longer piece written by Anne Lamott for National Geographic in 2018. I like it. To me, it says hope, as well as its cousins, love and faith, are more than holy talismans that stand apart from our ordinary, everyday life. Hope, for me, is something that is as natural as breathing. It sustains me.

In Louisiana, today we enter Phase One of the return to normalcy. Restaurants will open with limited seating. Retail shops are open. Barber shops and beauty salons open with limited capacity. I was able to score a coveted spot with my hair stylist next Monday.

I hope the curve continues downward in Louisiana. For a time, we were one of the nation’s hot spots for Covid-19. Fortunately, the New Orleans area, which was one of the nation’s leader in per capita cases, is now subsiding in new cases. There’s hope for the city and the state.

If you prefer sunrises and slanting light in clouds (in this case a sunset) I have one of those, too. After all, nature too can bring about a sense of hope. I think I’ve had this one on the blog before but I like it. It’s a sunset over Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville, Louisiana.

lake sunset

Consider the Lilies

Fire daylily1jpgThere is something magical, God-breathed inspiring, about day lilies. For just one day, a bloom is magnificent and break-taking, then each lily shrinks and shrivels into nothing but a memory as a fallen bloom.

Yet, each day, when I wake up, I can’t wait to see which lilies will grace my yard with their glory. They require very little upkeep, and they propagate without my help. All I offer is a bit of weeding and fertilizing, and nature supplies the sun and soil weaving a tapestry of beauty. I don’t have a special macro lens for my camera so this is the best I can do as far as photography will allow me to capture the day’s offering.

perfectly pink

mild yellow daylillies

pale orange2

 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;  and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not [l]arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Matthew 6:28-

Searching for Rachel Held Evans

Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of Rachel Held Evans. She was a Christian columnist, blogger and author. She wrote two New York Times bestsellers, Searching for Sunday and A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She was 37 years old when she died from a reaction to medication for an infection.

I only recently discovered her writing. I am about halfway through her book, Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church. I don’t agree with everything she writes, but agreement isn’t the point. As she says in her book, “I am writing because sometimes we are closer to the truth in our vulnerability than in our safe certainties.”

Rachel Evans possessed the ability to use her life’s struggles with Christianity to challenge the American church to get past black and white thinking, the tiresome culture wars, and the Christian tendency to shut out others, rather than invite them in. Even though I just started reading her book a week ago, I identify with her writing. I’ve lost a lot of my earlier fervor for the church in recent years.  Like Rachel, I have sat out Sunday at home for a season, rather than attend church. And like Rachel, I am back in although with reservations.

I never lost my faith in God, but I have had my doubts about his church. However, I have found that I need the church with all of its blemishes and faults. To quote Rachel from Searching For Sunday, “They (church friends) reminded me that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people. They reminded me that, try as I may, I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church.”

What I like about her writing is how she continually points out Jesus’ tendency in the Gospels to break tradition, to invite the marginalized and challenge the religious mindset of his generation. Christianity isn’t supposed to be a place where we fortify our mindsets against the world, secure a battlement against society, and keep out the impure. So many times, that’s what has happened as we have devolved into a self-righteous camp of naysayers.

This is my favorite quote thus far by Rachel Evans, “This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”

On this day, the anniversary of her death, I hope I can honor her life with remembering I am an oddball at the table, hungry for something more, and leaving room for one more.

 

 

Rest

The year of the plague is upon us, but I need a rest. Rest from newscasts, cooking, cleaning, eating, binge-watching Netflix, Zoom calls, and everything else that I use to try to cope with my thoughts that sometimes won’t quit. These activities are helpful, but they can be just another way of blocking out being in the present moment. 

I snapped the shot below last week while walking with my foster dog in Fontainebleau Park in nearby Mandeville, Louisiana. The dog is gone. I regret to say I am a foster failure. She really was not all that much trouble, but I was concerned about the accidents, daily, in the house. Since the bedrooms are carpeted, I closed those rooms to her. But, I was careless with closing doors, so she left stains. She went back to the humane society for an appointment with prospective owners who wanted a forever dog. 

I hoped it worked out for the dog and the prospective clients because I didn’t take her back home with me. I might try another foster dog, but I have to better prepare myself and the house for a nervous, confused animal to be with me, being a somewhat nervous, confused human in these times At least, though, not yet anyway, I am not yet staining the carpets. 

IMG_0250

When I look at the photograph above, it reminds me of words from Eugene Peterson’s Bible translation, “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace,” from Matthew 11:29-30. I need to establish a rhythm of grace: doing things, yes, but sometimes, just being present in the moment.

 

Palm Sunday Meditation

Staying home sucks. I live alone so it super sucks. Truthfully, I am restless. I am yielding to temptation too often to get out more than I need even as Louisiana’s governor urges us to stay home as much as possible.

I am finding it’s hard to change my behavior. I want to leave my home, going wherever I want, whenever I want. I want to live my life on my terms.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people welcomed him loudly with praise. They expected Jesus to be a real king. They thought he was coming to unseat the Romans who controlled Israel in that time. No one expected him to end the week by dying on a cross.

Their thoughts about Jesus had to change. He wasn’t going to rule as a literal king. Change was in the air, but not the change they expected

The religious leaders were on high alert as Jesus entered the city. They didn’t want change. They had power, which they shared with the Romans. Jesus represented a real threat to their way of doing things. They would plot and succeed in getting Jesus killed a week later to preserve their way of doing things so as not to change. They didn’t realize that in killing Jesus, they fulfilled the prophecies of his death and resurrection.

In the coming days, I can choose to embrace change. The coronavirus is here, and I can’t change that. I can find ways to live my best life though as I adapt and live life with the changes happening around me.

So, yes, it sucks. I am going to exercise more, be outside more, work in my yard, read and write more. As needed, I will help my mother with her needs in this time of sheltering in place. Generally, I’ll do my best to adapt to the change forced upon me.

I think of the song, The Times They Are A Changin’ by Bob Dylan.

Come gather ’round, people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Maybe Palm Sunday represents a religious and outdated celebration to most of the world today.  For me I am going to let Palm Sunday be a celebration of change. I am choosing to this day as a reminder that changing my life and way of thinking is the best thing I can for myself.

The times they are a-changin’.