#readingforchange: Brown Girl Dreaming

And just like that, day four of Reading for Change is here! Some of you have joined me, in the same books I’m reading and by solely reading other books by black authors in honor of Black History Month.

Alexandre Dulaunoy

Today we’re discussing Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreamingwhich I know a ton of you joined in reading. So let’s just say this: Leave a comment. Tell us what you loved about the book. Dialogue with others who read (or are dying to read) Woodson’s poetry. Include a link to your blog post, if you wrote about it elsewhere. Then, call it good to go.

Y’all ready? Enter in!

Her words aren’t necessarily
what I’d read,
ever.

It’s free verse poetry told from the perspective
of a young black girl
becoming a teenager
transforming into a woman.

So it’s her heart,

an innocent perspective.

It’s the lens
through which
she views the world,
gulps down history

[Jim Crow South,
Rosa Parks and the big bus boycott,
the Civil Rights Movement,
Dr. King,
Malcolm X,
a girl named Ruby Bridges,
Freedom Singers, to name a few],

understands her family,
grows into herself.

The reader is transported to
the South
the Midwest
and New York.

And it is in these travels and stories of everyday life that she comes of age.

She finds
breath
in words.

She finds
meaning
in friendship.

She finds
what she believes
about God and church and religion,
about faith and lack there of,
about her own role in belief.

So,
read the book,
enter the poetry,
hear the unique perspective her voice
brings
to this world.

Then try and write
a free verse
poem of your own.

And be amazed.

For you,
my friend,
are a poet, too.

Unknown

 

How’s that for a little free verse review? While I read the book via Audible (and enjoyed the voice of the author herself), I’ve been told by multiple people that seeing it in print is a must. So, support Jacqueline Woodson and go pick up a copy of Brown Girl Dreaming. Otherwise, if you read the book, what’d you think? What did it teach you about life and love, history and words and following your heart alike?

#readingforchange: Trouble I’ve Seen

Well, day three of Reading for Change is here! Some of you have joined me, in the same books I’m reading and by solely reading other books by black authors in honor of Black History Month.

Alexandre Dulaunoy

And today I’m most delighted to enter into discussing Drew G. I. Hart’s recent release, Trouble I’ve Seenwith you. Instead of me highlighting passages or talking about central themes in the book, Drew graciously responded to my request for an interview of sorts.

So, let’s do this: let’s enter into and honor Drew’s words by paying attention to what he says below. If you read the book, comment about it below. If you didn’t read the book, engage with Drew’s words here. Then, run as fast as you can to your local bookstore or your favorite online designation and purchase Trouble I’ve Seen. While you’re at it, you can also check him out on his website, Twitter and Facebook page.

12031440_840144742768018_5360753579343629486_oWithout further adieu, Drew Hart, folks:

  1. One thing you talk about in your book is a “colorblind rhetoric” many people within the dominant church have when it comes to issues of diversity. Will you describe that to us, and also tell us what it might look like to have a color-filled rhetoric (or whatever you might call it)?

Yeah, colorblind rhetoric is simply language people use to claim that they do not notice the race and color of other people in their day to day life. While it sounds like a nice gesture the reality of such a comment has several problems. First, it isn’t very honest. Americans are deeply aware of the racial group of the person they are talking to. Second, denying the diversity of physical features is hardly a way to celebrate God’s creativity expressed in humanity. The various tones and features that make us all who we are should be celebrated. Third, there has been research that connects colorblind rhetoric usage with people that in actuality live very racially distinct lives. For example, you might have a white person that says “I don’t see color, I just see people as people” but every choice they make is towards whiteness. Could be the case for their neighborhood, social networks, organizations, or church. Or, it could be as simple as them having all-white book shelves and only reading and learning from people from their own racial group. So the language of colorblindness is actually then covering up their racialized patterns of life. Finally, most Americans use racial descriptors at various points. Usually, people talk about not seeing color in response to people discussing racism. So in actuality it is racism that they are not perceiving, rather than color.

Instead, we need to honor the diversity of everyone and recognize that we are all created in the image of God. And while it is tempting to make utopian and post-racial comments like “we are all just Americans” we must resist and instead speaking honestly about the ways that our society is indeed racialized and how that impacts particular groups in different ways. Pretending that our society isn’t still influenced by 400 years of racialized history actually prevents us from intentionally righting the wrongs and bringing healing to suffering in our society that exists. I believe in a God that has not turned away from the beauty of humanity nor the injustices of humanity.

  1. How can we break patterns of self-segregation? How have you and your family broken patterns of self-segregation?

If we truly recognized that we are all made in the image of God, then that would change our posture in how we engage with different people groups. Those that have been historically alienated and ignored would be sought ought and listened to. You know, seeking to understand their human experience and wanting to see things from their standpoint. However, if we unconsciously have racial hierarchies that we have been socialized by, and are not intentionally challenging those mindsets, we will find every justification under the Sun for why we continue to live out racialized patterns every day.

My family, though we intentionally live in a poor black community, have never had self-segregated lifestyles. It really is not that hard for middle and upper class people. Poor people, on the other hand frequently have much less choice about their social networks. I think that as Christians, our lives ought to not only break from these racialized patterns ourselves, but we ought to disrupt the forces at work in our neighborhoods and communities that trap poor black and brown people into ghettos and neighborhoods without adequate resources. As such, my dinner table breaks racialized patterns, but I also support justice organizations in Philadelphia that are addressing systemic issues as well.

  1. Tell us about the white Jesus many within the church in the US have come to know: how can we get to know the real Jesus who stood in solidarity with the socially outcast and oppressed?

Unfortunately, in the West, Christianity and western civilization got conflated together. It was so bad that when missionaries went out to Africa, Asia, and Latin America, for example, they claimed to offer Jesus but in reality offered so much more. Instead of receiving the good news of Jesus people were forced to receive the gospel of western society. Missionaries thought people had to Anglicize their name, cut their hair, change their clothes, change their language, and sever their lives from everything indigenous to their own culture. That is, people died to their culture and were raised in western European new life. All things became new, but that new thing was white standards of beauty, values, and norms. And in this western Christian conflation, even Jesus had to die to his Jewish body and Judaic roots and find new life as a western white hero. The conflation is bad enough, but since western societies were also engaging in conquest and domination of people groups all around the world at this time, making Jesus into a white man also fashioned him into the face of power instead of the powerless.

If we are to get back to knowing the real Jesus, we need to immerse ourselves in Jesus’ story. It is not good enough to claim Jesus if we are not going to take seriously his life and teachings. And we need to keep in mind, as Howard Thurman explained so well in his 20th century classic, Jesus and the Disinherited, that Jesus was a poor Jew living under Roman occupation. If we lose track of these important realities for his life, then we will not understand the context in which he ministered in. Beyond the obvious reality that Jesus’ life in scripture centralized the folks on the margins (Samaritans, vulnerable women, the poor masses, the sick), understanding the backdrop of Roman occupation, for one, transforms simple teachings into very radical statements. And it is this Jesus that we must get to know and follow after in life.

  1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer seems to have greatly influenced your thinking, to the point that you (assumedly) named your son after him. How might we learn from and apply Bonhoeffer’s actions and theology to our everyday lives? [Side note: He’s one of my favorites, too!]

I do like Bonhoeffer. I find him intriguing. One of the neat things about Bonhoeffer is that we know so much about his life (though some aspects of his life continue to be hotly debated) and yet we also have writings from him that span the course of his life. We can follow his thoughts and his life, and be taken on a journey. What got my attention with Dietrich Bonhoeffer was his time in Harlem and at Abyssinian Baptist Church, a historic Black Church during his time in the states in 1930. He was clearly captivated by what he encountered and began intentionally learning more and more. As I explain in Trouble I’ve Seen, he begins to see life from a very different vantage point after that experience. Bonhoeffer is not perfect, and at times I still get frustrated with him, but he was on a serious journey trying to follow Jesus. Discipleship wasn’t a devotional moment for him, it was in fact truly costly. We would all do well to take our discipleship to Jesus as seriously as he did.

  1. You talk a lot about people becoming learners, and not going into situations “presuming they know everything about a community even though they have never studied the people group and its concerns in depth” (114). How have you done this in your life? How have you taught your sons to be learners of others?

Honestly, as a black man, I don’t think I have ever really had an option. I have always had to learn about other people, especially white people and their history, culture, icons, music, and literature. However, the more I get to know Jesus, the more I am drawn to also hear the stories of other people groups that have suffered under white supremacy. It really is about learning to listen. As a Christian, I want to understand other people’s experiences. Hopefully my boys see that by my life and that it will be caught just as it is taught.

  1. #Blacklivesmatter: it’s not just a movement but it’s a call for the church to affirm that all lives matter, especially all black lives. You talk about risking concrete love so we might affirm black lives. What’s an example of concrete love you’ve seen when it comes to these words?

I think this concrete love can be anything from sharing in the life of others, to working to dismantle our school to prison pipeline. For it to be actual love, people have to move from the talking points that are so common when talking about black people, especially poor black people, and must actually value and care about the well-being of black people. Out of that, people just need to join into the lives of others and demonstrate that they are in solidarity with us through the challenges our community is facing. There is no one way to do it, but when actual love is present it is hard to miss.

  1. Your final chapter entitled, “Where Do We Go From Here?” is particularly eye-opening because it gives ordinary, everyday examples for all of us to live and lean into. Can you give us one example from your own life wherein you experienced leaning into people who weren’t like you, in an effort to further break down the walls in your own life?

Absolutely. I am a part of a group of leaders in Philadelphia that formally meets once a month. We are a racially diverse and are scattered throughout the city. I love that the primary thing that we do is dwell in the Word together and pray for each other. And yet we also have other initiatives and goals we address as well. For example, a construction company was birthed out of this group. It intentionally makes regular profit for middle income earners so that it can subsidize the costs for low income and elderly households in the city. It also intentionally hires returning citizens from prison whom historically have large obstacles finding employment after they are branded permanently with the ex-convict label. Many of these leaders are like family now. We enter into each other’s lives throughout the month beyond our capacities as leaders. And I see the life of Jesus made visible in many of them. When I think about what it means to be One in Christ, I often think about many of them and the ongoing journey we have been on together.

Thank you for your powerful words, Drew. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to enter into dialogue with us. Thank you for trusting us with your thoughts.

So, Trouble I’ve Seen: did you read it? What’d you think? I’m a big fan of Drew and encourage all of us to take his words and thoughts to heart. Leave a comment regarding the book or his words below, and enter into the conversation! Also, don’t forget to support his writing and buy his book!

#readingforchange: Purple Hibiscus.

Welcome to day two of Reading for Change, when we enter into reading with intention so we can learn and grow and maybe, just maybe, begin to gain an understanding into the lives of people who are different from us.

Some of you have joined me in only reading books by black authors in honor of Black History Month …and the discussions are only halfway over! Join me Wednesday for an interview with and discussion on Drew Hart’s  Trouble I’ve Seen, or Thursday for Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming

So, if you joined me for reading Purple Hibiscus, jump on down to the comments’ section and engage in dialogue today! The rules are simple, meaning there aren’t really any rules: leave a comment. Tell us what you loved about the book. Dialogue with others who read (or are dying to read) the book. Include a link to your blog post, if you wrote about it elsewhere. Then, call it good to go. Also, be sure to check out Annie’s thoughts by heading over to her blog.

Alexandre Dulaunoy

So, Purple Hibiscus

This is the second book I’ve read by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose words are always an eye-opener and a breath of fresh air for me. (The first? Americanah, and you can read my thoughts here). A Nigerian native, she writes what she knows, so this story entirely takes place in Nigeria.

It’s a country I don’t know very well.

It’s a culture (in the time the story takes place) of patriarchy, civil unrest and religious fanaticism that I’m unfamiliar with in the world I live in today.

And it’s a story that’s rather hard to swallow sometimes, because who wants to read of a domineering and abusive father, and who wants to taste the racism of the times, and who wants to align extremist Christian views with a religion that seems (and really is) so far from the painted picture?

This girl.

I do.

The story is narrated by Kambili, a fifteen-year-old Nigerian girl, who goes with her brother to live with their aunt when a military coup forces them to leave their family’s home. It’s not until they begin to really live in this new place that they begin to see and breathe and soak up life – life through the unique purple hibiscus plants that adorn her aunt’s property. For the first time, they experience autonomy outside the realms of their father’s rigid beliefs, schedule and ordering of their lives.

So our story, which could technically be classified as a Young Adult novel (simply because the narrator is a young adult herself – even though it feels more “adult” to me), is a coming of age novel. Kambili and her brother both begin to find out who they really are apart from their father’s rules of school, socialization and religion.

And isn’t that the journey all of us are on, at some point in our lives? We’re all coming to know ourselves, finding out who we really are under the skin and bones we wear.

While the reader learns a fair amount about Nigerian history, the heart of the novel resides in intense, broken, messy family dynamics.

Reconciliation comes, in a way, although it’s never very neat and pretty. The bow that ties the end of the story together is rather scraggly and and faded and worn, but it knits the book together nonetheless.

Even though I’m being vague, I don’t think Adichie could have picked a better ending.

So, what’d you think? How did Purple Hibiscus (or whatever fiction book by a black author you chose to read) change you? What did you appreciate, and what did you loathe? 

Do enter into the conversation by leaving a comment below. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

So, Purple Hibiscus : yay, nay? Have you read any of Adichie’s books, and what do you think of the themes woven throughout her writing in general? 

*Contains Amazon Affiliate links, of course.

reading for change: stride toward freedom.

It’s here, it’s here! You might remember this post on the first of the month, inviting you to read with intention in the month of February. Many of you, regardless of whether you joined in the books I read, have only been reading books by black authors in honor of Black History Month.

So, tell me: how has your experience been? 

What have you seen and learned, and how have you changed? 

How will you walk away from your reading endeavors of the past month a different person 28 days later?

If you’re a regular follower of the blog, this week will look different: because it’s all about the books, ’bout the books, ’bout the books, no treble… 

You picking up what I’m putting down?

Alexandre Dulaunoy

Today we’ll jump into Martin Luther King, Jr’s Stride Toward Freedomor any other “piece of history” books by black writers. I’m keeping it simple: if you have something to add to the discussion, leave a comment below. If you’re a blogger and you blogged about it, include a link to your blog. Enter into community by reading and responding to each other’s comments. Sound good?

And, the fun will continue this week, with Purple Hibiscus (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) on Tuesday,  Trouble I’ve Seen (Drew G. I. Hart) on Wednesday, and Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson) on Thursday. I look forward to reading your thoughts!

I’ve long wanted to learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. Undoubtedly the namesake of the Civil Rights Movement, I’ve always known about the man, but I hadn’t given him justice and actually studied him. I hadn’t taken the time to learn from him.

This book was my opportunity to sit at his feet, and friends, sit at his feet I did. Stride Toward Freedom reads as more of a memoir than an autobiographical account, because the thread of psychological drama is woven throughout his recounting of the events surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Did you know that the local boycott, which started when Rosa Parks wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus, lasted for more than a year? Did you know that the MIA (Montgomery Improvement Association), which guided the campaign and elected King its president, organized carpools, held weekly meetings and rallied to register black voters? And did you know that white southern women were some of the biggest carpool drivers during the boycott …all because they couldn’t do without their black employees?

Mmm mmm mmm.

I could go on, but King’s words need no explanation. See for yourself:

“Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.” How have you seen this play out in your own life? How have you seen it play out between different groups of people?

“The tensions are not between the races , but between the forces of justice and injustice.” This is not a tension of black against white or vice versa, but this is a tension between justice and injustice. When I read a sentence like this, it makes that much more sense, wouldn’t you agree?

“Love must be our regulating idea.” Truth. How have you seen this play out in your life?

“Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love…Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.” What does this mean for the #blacklivesmatter movement today? What does it mean for our country’s future?

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Harm to one is injury to all. So, what injustice do YOU see in your world today? How might you be called to action?

I know, I’m going all English teacher on y’all …but friends, King’s words were powerful, true and heart-palpitatingly necessary for me to read.
I trust they did the same for you.
So,  Stride Toward Freedomwhat did it mean to you? How did it, or another book like it, change you? Enter the conversation and leave a comment below – then, be sure to continue dialoguing with one another through the comments section! Also, if you wrote a blog post about it, be sure to leave it in your comment so we can check it out. See you tomorrow for the Purple Hibiscus discussion! 

a story of racial justice, from me to you.

Friends, if I had my way, I’d write light and fluffy, cotton candy-filled pieces that make you and me feel like a million bucks. I’d skim the surface and I’d not muddy the waters. I’d laugh and I’d never cry. I’d accept every answer on face value instead of asking the hard questions.

I’d also then never be challenged, and I’d never have to grow, and I’d stay the same and believe the same and, except for the Jennifer Aniston cut I rocked in the late nineties, I’d probably look the same, too. 

But who wants that?

And how’s that for living?

cara-meredith-feat-650x340
Photos: 7th grade Cara on the left; MLK and my father in law on the right.

Today’s post (on my blog) is short, but this story you’ll soon read is one that’s been ruminating in my insides for a good while now. It’s a story of my journey into issues of racial justice. It’s a story of meeting the HBH (Hot Black Husband), and it’s a story of learning about the impact his father made not only for African Americans in this country, but for all humans, everywhere.

It’s a story of God, and it’s a story of what we want to pass on to our boys, now and in the future. It’s a story of how our children are already teaching us to see differently and live differently and love most differently. 

It’s a story that has come to change me, and I hope it changes you, too.

I don’t expect you to agree with everything I’ve written, but I sure hope it makes you think.

So, click here to read the article …and enjoy all the pictures along the way, too!

xo, c.

PS: If you like it, sprinkle around some love and share it on Facebook. Also, if you haven’t already, will you like my Facebook page? My future agent and publishing house thanks you! 

a love story of place.

L_Cara.jpg

I was home alone when it happened.

I’d just snuggled up under a threadbare quilt on the couch, absorbed in Brené Brown’s Rising Strong. Like the poem touts, the children were nestled all snug in their beds, and my husband had just returned to the office to finish a big project. A cup of peppermint tea sat perched to my right, still too hot to drink, but just steamy enough to warm my hands by.

That’s when I heard the helicopters and the voice over the loudspeaker: “Residents, stay inside your houses. K9 Units are on the prowl. They will attack.”

The whirring of the blades intermixed with the 14-word proclamation, repeated at ten-second intervals. Spotlights circled overhead and dogs barked in the distance. Police officers yelled from down the block.

Criminals were on the loose.

I set the dead bolt. I checked the backdoor. I turned off all the lights in the house, because somehow, maybe, if I couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see me. They wouldn’t choose me.

I sat by the window, peering out closed blinds.

I prayed for peace, inside and outside and all around.

And just like that it was over: the whirring quieted and the dogs stopped barking and the lights stopped flashing. A text came in from my husband, and then from two of my neighbors, people I’ve known for less than a year.

Silence enveloped, just as soon as it had begun. And I found myself thinking, Still, I choose this place. I choose this city and these people and even the scary things, too, and I’ll continue to choose it over and over again.

For mine is a love story of place.

the story continues, for you KNOW the story always continues. Click here and head on over to She Loves Magazine for the rest of the piece. You’ll hear some thoughts about place, like how I don’t think, given the choice, that place is supposed to be like an arranged marriage. Otherwise, what’s YOUR love story? And is yours a love story of place?

holy curiosity: a sucker for a good plot twist (dani scoville).

Oh friends, you are in for a treat today. Dani and I have been acquaintances for awhile, but we’re about to become Real Deal Holyfield friends soon enough. So enjoy her thoughts on this year’s guest post theme of “Holy Curiosity” – because, if you’re a sucker for a good plot twist, then you’ll most definitely be a sucker for her storytelling ways. Have fun!

Story.png

There was nothing more thrilling for me as a child than a trip to the library. I had the shelf locations of all my favorite books memorized, so upon arriving I’d grab those titles first then spine by spine thoroughly review the rest of the children’s section. Walking to the counter with a tall stack of books and my own library card, I’d beam with pride. At home, I’d curl up on the sofa and escape into the story contained on the page, loving the characters and wondering what would happen next.

A couple decades and a literature degree later, and I’m still completely enthralled with story. Printed, digital, spoken, you name it. I am all about that narrative. I’ll groan with pleasure at a good plot twist, character development, or fulfilled foreshadow.

These days, though, my curiosity is struck by the real stories of people and how God shows up for each of them. It’s what drew me to be trained as a spiritual director. Getting to listen to my directees’ stories of daily life, prayer, and God movements feels like witnessing little miracles.

It builds my trust in God’s presence and activity in the world and my life.

In listening to others’ stories and experiencing my own, I sit back and turn over the details in my mind, wondering how the pieces fit or will fit together. Why did the job or relationship end at that time? Why does it seem like everything in this person’s life is changing at once? Could this be a kind of preparation for something big, like a move out of state?

There’s a sincere curiosity and perhaps naive trust in the idea that it all has some kind of meaning. This doesn’t mean the absence of pain, but that there is, at least, significance. The hope of meaning has helped me persevere through heartbreak, grief, and liminal spaces, and walk with others through theirs.

Often in hindsight, I see the narrative arc of God’s story. Such as a massive layoff at my first job out of college propelling me to move to San Francisco, where so much professional, relational, and spiritual growth has happened over the last 7 years. The arc reminds me that twists and turns make for a better, richer narrative than a straight shot from plot point A to B. That the mystery is exactly what makes the story worthwhile. And perhaps, there are no superfluous details or events.

But here’s the thing, sometimes my curiosity with story gets a little out of hand.

I can turn it into an attempt at predicting the future. When something is happening, I try to discern its meaning beyond the present moment. I know I’m in trouble when I start narrating a situation in my head.

This thought process led me to believe that my last relationship was the real deal because he and I had both lost a parent the same way. Because of this I wanted our relationship to be miraculous — that somehow what we did together could redeem our shared losses. When the relationship ended, it made me wonder what was the point of us having something so specific in common.

There was a narrative arc, but it bent in a different direction with different meaning.

As much as I love a good plot twist in a story, I hate real-life change and the unknown it brings. Such as the break up and entering the 30-something dating scene. Or my coming Spring graduation from my three-year spiritual direction program. Or the ongoing question most San Franciscans have of living in one of the most expensive cities in the country: should I stay or should I go?

On my best days, I lean into God, trusting that my story will unfold in time, remembering I am not the true narrator here and predicting what happens next will only lead to disappointment. On my worst days, my anxiety makes me keenly aware of all the possible negative plot turns that could happen.

Yet when I prayerfully look at where I currently am in the story: the beauty, difficulties, and characters in my life, I mostly feel gratitude echoing within me. That there even IS a storyline helps connect me to the reality of a divine narrator who loves me enough to give my story meaning.

So I watch the story unfold in front of me with the same sense of anticipation I did as a girl when the story was on the page. I release my grasp on discerning meaning in the moment, and let the divine mystery be just that, a mystery.

Dani_2015Dani Scoville is a mystic, Jesus follower, blogger, music enthusiast, Enneagram nerd, and friend. She is currently in her final year of training as a spiritual director at the Mercy Center. She lives in San Francisco with two friends that feel like family, and a tiny dog that looks like an alien named Olive. To find more of her writing, visit her blog.  It’s Cara again: I know. I KNOW: Dani’s words to us were a treat, that’s for sure. Show her some love by leaving a narrative-filled comment below.